The interactions primates have with the snakes that eat them have helped shape their way of life: from driving the evolution of their sharp eyes, to prompting the move towards communal living. Snakes are known to munch dozens of primate species worldwide, but interestingly, the exact ways in which thumb-wielding creatures defend themselves against serpentine predators hasn't been well documented in the wild. 

Early last year, a group of hotel workers in northwest Madagascar witnessed a Coquerel's sifaka lemur (think Zooboomafoo) being attacked by a 2.7 metre female Madagascar ground boa (Acrantophis madagascariensis). These large snakes are endemic to the African island after which they're named, and this particular one was something of a local legend, known as 'Big George'. 

At first, the event was nothing out of the ordinary: "The adult lemur was struck and encircled in [George's] constricting coils," explains conservation biologist Charlie J. Gardner, who, along with several colleagues published a report of the encounter last month.

No one had much hope for the soon-to-be meal, but in a bout of 'crouching lemur hidden badass', one of the other sifakas sounded the alarm, causing the troop to descend on Big George. According to the researchers, the lemur ninjas took turns rapidly lunging, biting and scratching the large snake on the body and behind the head, darting back before she could retaliate.

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Warming up with some Tai Chi. Images: Nomis-simon/Flickr

"Snakes are known to kill more than 30 species of primate, including ... seven [groups] of lemurs, but there remain few reports [like this] of non-human primates actively defending against actual or potential snake predators," says Gardner. 

After a 20-minute battle, Big George uncoiled enough for her prey to turn and bite her on the jaw, causing a fracture that prevented her from being able to close her mouth. The injury was enough cause for the snake to give up, releasing the lemur to the safety of the troop, who took shifts on guard duty and licking their comrade's bite wounds. 

If you're wondering how a lemur survived being constricted by a snake this size for 20 minutes, we were too. "This suggests that the snake was unable to constrict at full strength as a result of its evasive actions whilst under attack," explains Gardner. In other words? Sifakas know what they're doing. 

The lucky lemur managed to escape with just a small leg injury, and later was seen with a baby in tow. We wish we could say the same for Big George, who was found dead two months later. It's an unfortunate end for the snake, but it's an eat-or-be-eaten world out there. 

Top header image:Michael Sale/Flickr