Last month, we saw anteater vs jaguar and fish vs bobbit worm. But for the spooky month of October, what better match-up could there be than serpent vs vampire?

The showdown unfolded in a 450-metre-long (1,500ft) cavern called Castillo Cave in Tena, Ecuador, a city surrounded by rainforest. Caught on camera by a research team that included Sarah Martin-Solano from the country's Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas, the rarely seen predation was reported recently in the awesome-sounding scientific journal, Subterranean Biology.

Castillo Cave is home to arthropods, reptiles and lots of bats (of course), including the common vampire bat, Desmodus rotundus. They might not transform at night or own castles in eastern Europe, but the bats do use their sharp teeth and long tongues to collect blood from larger mammals. Despite their name and those blood-swilling habits, however, the scariest thing about these real-life vampires is that they occasionally carry rabies.

Castillo also has its reptilian residents: rainbow boas (Epicrates cenchria), nocturnal snakes named for their iridescent scales. Bats might have a long list of predators to fear, from fish and frogs to cats and centipedes, but it's snakes that are among the most deadly bat-hunters. And when Castillo's vampire bats flock in and out of the the cave by the thousands, the boas are ready and waiting, positioned to snatch the flying mammals right out of the air. 

That's exactly how the lucky boa in the video managed to land its meal on a December afternoon back in 2015. The 1.4 metre (4.5ft) snake had been lying in wait with its open mouth in the air, positioned on the floor just inside the cave's entrance. Its chosen ambush spot was unusual, since bat-hunting snakes usually opt for a wall or the cave ceiling. But the peculiar strategy worked: before long, the snake had caught a low-flying vampire bat by the head.

Snakes might be skilled bat-hunters, but the behaviour is rarely documented, and hardly ever caught on camera – and this is one of the largest bats ever observed being eaten by a snake!

While the scientists' footage unfortunately misses the moment the snake grabs its prey – few videos manage to catch the actual strike – it does show the aftermath. Snagging such a big bat out of the air was an impressive feat, but the struggle didn't end there. The snake spent a good ten minutes constricting the bat, and then several more minutes trying to find the best position to fit its prized catch into its mouth.  

Eventually, the right approach proved to be swallowing the bat head-first, marking the first ever observed case of a rainbow boa feeding on a vampire bat.

Ecuador isn't the only place where snakes hunt bats on the wing. Earth Touch camera crews have filmed cave racers hunting wrinkle-lipped bats in Thailand, and this video from BBC Earth shows a snake catching a bat in a cave in Mexico:


Top header image: Matt Hewitt, Flickr