Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, February 18, 2010


One of my perennially favorite themes is the taking of outsize quarry by predatory birds. I was recently alerted to a couple of nice documentations, the first describing an apparent case of a Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perpicillata) preying on a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegatus) that had come to the ground to defecate. Spectacled Owls are common through most of tropical America, although I've never found a nest nor handled one in captivity and have little knowledge of their behavior. They're medium-sized forest owls that I've always assumed subsisted mostly on lizards, arthropods and mouse-sized mammals. A grounded three-toed sloth is hardly an imposing foe (unlike its rather distant cousins the two-toed sloths), but the taking of anything that big by a Spectacled is quite surprising to me.

Our second link documents an attemped predation on a White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) by a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), featuring some great shots accompanied by somewhat less great commentary, said to have been taken in Illiniois, of all places. While this behavior isn't typical, it's far from unheard of. It can't be denied that Golden Eagles are very powerful and effective predators. I have spent many hours watching wild Golden Eagles and have watched them hunt many different types of quarry. Some day I hope to witness something like this in person.While on the subject of large prey, I received an email yesterday with a series of photographs showing a Black-headed Python (Aspidites melanocephalus) swallowing what appears to be a dull-colored Gould's Monitor (Varanus gouldii). The email identified the location as Cloudbreak, Arizona, although it's clearly Australia. These photos may not be new, but they were of special interest to me, since they illustrate a situation similar to the one I painted in 1994 for the cover of Brian Kend's Pythons of Australia. My painting was criticized for showing the snake applying its belly to the prey instead the sides of its body. Some of the photographs, like the one in the upper left, clearly show the python using its sides, while in others the belly is against the prey. The entire photo series appears to show the process at a later stage than my painting (the prey seems to have already been killed in the former), but hope remains that Kend's book cover may actually be somewhat accurate.
upper: SPECTACLED OWL (2009) acrylic 10" x 8"


Anonymous オテモヤン said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Snail said...

Bit late to the party here (and I see the spammers are out and about) but I can provide a little more info about the python. The pics are from a rather wonderful series taken by miners at the Cloud Break iron mine in the Pilbara, Western Australia. They cordoned off the area where the snake was feeding on the goanna, so it could continue in safety.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Thanks for the background, Snail. So at least it seems the "Cloudbreak" part of the location was somewhat accurate.

9:44 PM  
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