Feeding ecology and diet

Slender blindsnakes feed exclusively on small invertebrate prey. Some species consume a relatively wide variety of such animals, including beetles, caterpillars, centipedes, cockroaches, crickets, fly larvae, harvestmen, millipedes, and spiders. However, the bulk of their diet consists mainly of ant brood and termites. Like other snakes, they rely heavily on chemoreception to find their prey. They are able to follow the pheromone trails of ants and termites with relative ease, allowing them to locate large colonies of these abundant social insects in almost any environment. Once the snakes enter these colonies, they go into a feeding frenzy and quickly gorge themselves, often eating hundreds of prey items in a single meal. They ingest their prey using a unique feeding mechanism, in which the front half of the lower jaw is rapidly flexed in and out of the mouth to ratchet prey into the throat. This mandibular raking mechanism allows leptotyphlopids to feed very rapidly, thereby minimizing the time that they are exposed to the attacks of ants and termites defending their nests.

These tiny snakes also have evolved an elaborate defensive behavior to help protect themselves from the bites and stings of ants. When molested, they briefly retreat from their attackers and coil into a ball. They then expel a mixture of glandular secretions and feces from the cloaca and begin to writhe within their coils, deliberately spreading this mixture over their entire bodies. After several minutes of this, the snakes take on a glossy, silvery appearance. More importantly, however, they emerge from their coils with at least a partial immunity to ant attacks. The secret to this defensive strategy is a mixture of chemicals in the snakes' cloacal secretions that has a strong repellent effect on ants. Once the snakes have applied this "ant repellent," they resume feeding, during which time they are generally left unbothered by the ants.

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