To find an ant: trail-following in Australian blindsnakes (Typhlopidae)

Jonathan K. Webb*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The ability of small fossorial myrmecophagous Australian blindsnakes, Ramphotyphlops nigrescens, to follow scent trails was studied in the laboratory. Blindsnakes ignored trails of non-prey items (earthworms, isopods, termites) and control trails, but followed trails laid by four species of worker ants. Trails of Campanotus consobrinus and Iridomyrmex purpureus, two ant species that use well defined communal foraging trails, were readily followed by blindsnakes, as were trails of two species of Myrmecia that forage singly but are large and occur in large colonies (and, hence, may leave detectable trails in the field). Trails of two smaller solitary foraging ant species (Rhytidoponera enigmatica and R. metallica) were not followed, even though blindsnakes frequently consume the brood of these species in the wild. Hence, blindsnakes apparently use trail-following to locate some potential prey species, but rely on other cues to find nests of small solitary foraging ants. Blindsnakes followed week-old trails as well as day-old trails, but were apparently unable to follow trails left by single ants. These results reveal behavioural similarities between Australian blindsnakes and a previously studied American leptotyphlopid species, and suggest that chemoreception plays an important role in the foraging biology of these small fossorial snakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-948
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1992
Externally publishedYes


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