The cave of the hanging snakes

The planet Earth still keeps wonderful and unexplored places, species and natural phenomena. About a year and a half ago I heard about the existence of one of these places, where an extraordinary natural episode takes place every night. Very close to the town of Kantemó, in the Yucatan Peninsula, there is a very special environment that, just by hearing its name, generates a mixture of fascination, intrigue and exploration desires: The Cave of the Hanging Serpents.

It turns out that in this cave, occupied by six different species of insectivorous and frugivorous bats, also inhabits a particular species of ophidian. It is the Yellow-red Rat Snakes (Pseudelaphe flavirufa), or “tropical rat snake” as the local people call them, a kind of boa that has adapted to live in total darkness between the gaps and crevices of the cave, feeding exclusively on the bats. At nightfall the bats begin to leave, at which time the snakes emerge from their burrows, literally catching in the air those who pass too close. The boas are practically blind and still scientists cannot explain for certain how the snakes, in the total darkness, manage to detect the presence of the bats, which fly by quickly, and in spite of that, trap them. If all this were not fascinating in itself, you can also see the fossil trail that left the passage of the sea when these sites were under the waters and also live in its cenote 4 species of blind albino animals.

At nightfall and equipped with helmet, lamp, gloves, mask and following the steps of the guide I went into this intimidating environment. The entrance space is a huge stepped cavern, where you have to move with great caution due to the guano of the bats that cover the floor entirely, transforming it into an extremely slippery platform. The snakes are found in two narrow caves that begin at the bottom of the cavern.

In the first chamber we moved in squatting “relative comfort”. Lighting each hole or crack in search of snakes we progressed slowly. However and with a hint of frustration we had to leave that space without any sighting.

The hopes were entirely deposited in the second chamber. This tiny space tested our nerves and agility. Not suitable for claustrophobic, this cave demanded to penetrate by narrow restrictions down and up dragging on our belly, due to the limited space available. As in the first cave, there was no news of the rat snakes. When I thought that this was the disappointing end of my expedition and that I would have to turn empty-handed, the guide gave me a dose of hope when he informed me that we had not reached the end of the cave yet. To my uncertainty he pointed his finger to what only seem to me a dark stain. “Here,” he said and began to crawl through a tiny entrance that gave way to another camera…

nd there, at the far end of the cave, Mother Nature finally smiled at us and we found an adult specimen of about 1.80 meters feeding. Without paying attention to the heat, the humidity, the sweat, the discomfort and lack of space, I managed to take a whole sequence of images of the predatory activity, at only 60 cm. away from it. My presence in no way bothered the snake, that without even paying attention to me was devoted to dinner.

And there, at the far end of the cave, Mother Nature finally smiled at us and we found an adult specimen of about 1.80 meters feeding. Without paying attention to the heat, the humidity, the sweat, the discomfort and lack of space, I managed to take a whole sequence of images of the predatory activity, at only 60 cm. away from it. My presence in no way bothered the snake, that without even paying attention to me was devoted to dinner.

After achieving the objective, we backed off leaving the snake in peace. We left the cave exhausted, a little sore and muddy from head to toe, but grateful to have been able to witness a special natural spectacle.