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Cambridge University Science Magazine

If you found tiny snakes in an owl nest, you would be forgiven for thinking that they were perhaps intended to be food for growing owlets. After all, owls are predatory birds that prey on a wide variety of animals. However, an unusual relationship between the eastern screech owls and blind snakes of central Texas seems to suggest something different is happening.

Researchers from Baylor University, Texas, were surprised to find these usually secretive blind snakes in the nests of owls. The snakes are a group of miniature underground species that eat the larvae of insects, most often ants and termites — so how were they getting up into trees? In an unexpected twist, rather than killing the snakes before bringing them to their nest in the way owls usually treat their prey, eastern screech owls were picking them up and dropping them off alive. Surprisingly, it appears that the presence of snakes in these owl nests significantly increases the growth rate and decreases the mortality rate of chicks. This is probably due to blind snakes’ dietary preferences as these little snakes will eat any parasites that might negatively impact the owl chicks — not a bad job for such a tiny snake. 

Alexandra Howard