A fight to the death

The Macedonian island of Golem Grad, also known as Snake Island was the site of a struggle between a juvenile female nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) and a Megarian banded centipede (Scolopendra cingulata). This was a true battle to the death: at the end, neither survived.

S cingulata grows to be approximately 10 cm, only a third of the size of its cousin S. gigantea but is an aggressive creature attacking animals much larger than itself. An adult V. ammodytes often reaches almost a metre in length, and is an extremely venomous snake. This particular struggle, described in the journal Ecologica Montenegrina, involved a juvenile snake, not much longer than the centipede.


Excerpts from the study describe what was found.

On May 14th 2013, on the island of Golem Grad a juvenile female nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) was found dead, with head of a Scolopendra cingulata  protruding through the body wall of its lower abdomen.  A subsequent dissection revealed the absence of the snake’s
visceral organs (i.e. we found that only the snake’s body wall remained – the entire volume of its body was occupied by the centipede), which led us to suppose that the prey caused chemical or mechanical damage to the predator’s digestive organs.

Juvenile vipers from Golem Grad have been observed to consume Scolopendra sp., but in this case we assume the young snake gravely underestimated the size and strength of the centipede, which itself is known as a ferocious predator. In general, this invertebrate is extremely tough: it is very hard to kill a full-grown Scolopendra (personal observation). Therefore, we cannot dismiss the possibility that the snake had swallowed the centipede alive, and that, paradoxically, the prey has eaten its way through the snake, almost reaching its freedom.



This  reminded me of a poem I remember from my childhood.

In 1877, during the Russo-Turkish War, Percy French wrote a poem describing a battle between a Russian, Ivan Skavinsky Skavar, and one of the Sultan’s mamelukes, Abdul Abulbul Amir — who because of their pride end up in a fight and kill each other.

Abdul Abulbul Amir

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir.

If you wanted a man to encourage the van,
Or harass the foe from the rear,
Storm fort or redoubt, you had only to shout
For Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar,
And the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer,
Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

Young man, quoth Abdul, has life grown so dull
That you wish to end your career?
Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

So take your last look at the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar
For by this I imply, you are going to die,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk,[A]
Singing, “Allah! Il Allah! Al-lah!”
And with murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

They parried and thrust, they side-stepped and cussed,
Of blood they spilled a great part;
The philologist blokes, who seldom crack jokes,
Say that hash was first made on the spot.

They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar,
And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame,
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

As Abdul’s long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he was shouting, “Huzzah!”
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer,
But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh,
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.

There’s a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls,
And graved there in characters clear,
Is, “Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdul Abulbul Amir.”

A splash in the Black Sea one dark moonless night
Caused ripples to spread wide and far,
It was made by a sack fitting close to the back,
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
‘Neath the light of the cold northern star,
And the name that she murmurs in vain as she weeps,
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

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