If I blinked, I would have missed it. If I had left the scene earlier, I would have missed it. If I had slept that day, I would have missed it.
I was in Thirthahalli, Karnataka, on the trail of a King Cobra. Volunteering with KCRE (Kalinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology) as an assistant, I monitored the activities of a male King Cobra every day.
One day, while returning from the field, a glint of blue caught my eye. Stepping closer, I saw a Painted Bronzeback Tree Snake shoot for the nearby bushes.
Excited, I pulled out my camera and began shooting.
However, I couldn’t distinguish the slender snake from the foliage. In the profusion of green, the serpent was all but invisible.
Suddenly, I saw it stick its head out of the bush.
Bronzebacks are typically shy, slithering through the thick cover. So, why would it stick its neck out?
Following its line of sight, I discovered its interest; a Malabar Gliding Frog clinging to a stem.
Glistening eyes with a slimy exterior, there it lay, keenly watching the snake. Reminiscent of an action movie, its pupils narrowed, waiting for the snake’s next move.
The two examined each other, locked in a perpetual staring contest.
Then, without warning, the snake lunged, its menacing jaws open. The frog greeted this by ballooning up, preventing the snake from wrapping its mouth around it.
Locked in combat, the snake twisted and turned while the frog, powered by its long hind legs, pushed on.
After what seemed like an eternity, the wrestling had ended with no apparent winner. The snake stayed put, without a care in the world. The frog, though, held on for dear life.
It seemed like a stalemate. There was no way the thin snake could swallow such large prey, or so I thought.
I assumed the snake would lose interest and give up. But it had a trick up its sleeve. In a second, it plunged forward, sinking its teeth into the frog’s belly. Punctured, the frog deflated.
Within minutes, the snake ingested the frog, pushing it down its body. All that was left of the amphibian was a prominent bump on the snake’s body.
Then, the snake turned to me.
There we were, gazing at one another. Why was it looking at me? Entranced, I stared back.
After 5 minutes, though, the spell broke. I sensed something was off. Why hadn’t it slithered off into the trees by now?
Then it dawned on me. Turning, I saw the labyrinth of vines that led into the forest.
I was in the snake’s way. It was merely waiting for me to move aside.
Chuckling, I moved off, and sure enough, the snake ascended the vines.
The snake’s camouflage allowed it to vanish instantly. In no time, every vine was a snake and every snake a vine.
This episode underscores the unforgiving cycle of life. The unfit are weeded out by the brutal hand of natural selection. Nature is unpretentious; it holds no facade.
Many of these creatures flicker on the edge of extinction. They must persevere in a world that increasingly challenges their survival.
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