The Deadliest and Most Feared Scent Trackers of India!

by Santosh Rajus – How do you feel when you walk through a food street? I am sure your taste buds are kindled when you cross every corner –  but will you be able to find the right food by just using your sense of smell? It’s hard, but there are few animals which have mastered the art of tracking smell. Insects are one of the best in scent tracking, but there is one more species which captures my attention and made me wonder how does it track?

“பாம்பை கண்டால் யானை படையும் நடுங்கும்” literally translated is “Sheer sight of a snake makes even an army of elephants tremble”. The Western Ghats is the home to several species of snakes; they are either ambush hunters or foragers. Ambush hunters use their camouflage and wait in selected locations for weeks to get closer to prey and use thermal detection to strike once the prey is in striking range. Foragers, on the other hand, go in search of prey following trials; they are either very fast and use their speed to catch their prey or they are venomous and use venom to immobilize their prey. How do they do it? How do they know which direction to follow?

Pit vipers use thermal detecting sensor to strike

Pit vipers use thermal sensors to strike

A snake has highly developed olfactory senses. Snakes use their tongue to capture the traces of smell and feed it to pits on the roof of their mouth called Jacobson’s organs. This helps in detecting the prey and also the forked tongue helps in detecting the direction of the prey as well. One of the most deadly trackers in this list is the King Cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah).

King Cobra flicking tongue to trace odor

King Cobra flicking its tongue to trace odor

The king cobra is endemic to the Indian forests and Southeast Asia and is currently under threat due to habitat loss. It the largest venomous snake and can measure up to 6m. Why is the king cobra the deadliest scent tracker? King cobra, unlike other snakes, prefers to feed on snakes and is the only species known as a specialist in hunting snakes. There are a few records of cannibalism as well in king cobra. In a complex forest environment, how does the king kill its prey? King cobra first traces the smell of other snakes and once in striking range injects venom and traces the prey again to feed on it. For a king cobra that is 6 m long,  it is one of the deadliest trackers. There are several questions which are still unanswered as to how the king develops a special taste for snakes. The complex world is filled with scents and few species have mastered the art of tracking different scents. So happy spotting snakes, and if you see one with prey in its mouth, do not disturb it, it has gone through a great trial to reach its reward.

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