There was something odd hanging from Evangeline Cummings' rose bush in the backyard of her home in Gainesville, Florida. It looked like a dead snake. As she inched forward for a closer look, something else was weaving its way toward the exact same spot.
What happened next was a series of unexpected events. Having arrived at the base of the tree, the incoming snake began to climb the rose bush and feed on its fallen brethren.
"I actually took an initial pic of the hanging snake and can now see (if I look closer) the coral snake," the University of Florida employee told ScienceAlert.
Cummings said she was flabbergasted, but the encounter didn't just end with snakes. Out of nowhere, suddenly there were three - and one of them had wings.
"I never thought a yellowjacket wasp would then join the fray," Cummings recalls. "That wasp just showed up while I was filming and it looked as though it stung the coral snake."
The feisty encounter she managed to capture on camera has since gone viral on Twitter. The wild video, which has been watched more than 45 thousand times, shows a red-and-black striped eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) munching on a dead rat snake while a yellowjacket wasp - not a bee, as Cummings originally thought - fights for a bite of its own.
"Um ok, @UFEntomology and @MartaWayneUF, I believe I just witnessed a BEE 🐝 stinging a CORAL SNAKE 🐍 while the CORAL was dining on a RAT (?) SNAKE 🐍 and I need your support to process this," Cummings wrote on Twitter.
Um ok, @UFEntomology and @MartaWayneUF , I believe I just witnessed a BEE 🐝 stinging a CORAL SNAKE 🐍 while the CORAL was dining on a RAT (?) SNAKE 🐍 and I need your support to process this. @UF #FloridaBackyard pic.twitter.com/djbJJGxaUk— Evangeline Cummings (@EvieCummings23) October 17, 2019
Twitter's thriving community of herpetologists were quickly on the virtual scene. Given that coral snakes are rarely seen and usually live underground, its presence in the backyard added an extra surprise.
While these predators often munch on other snakes for food, they do not typically climb shrubs, so experts on Twitter told Cummings this was highly unusual behaviour. Watching it get stung by a wasp was simply the icing on the cake.
Based on the animal's thrashing reaction to the wasp, herpetologist Emily Taylor at the California Polytechnic State University said she thought the coral snake was most certainly stung. And a local graduate student tagged in the thread, who studies the physiology of reptiles, appeared to agree.
"Youch! Even venomous snakes don't like yellowjacket stings," replied herpetologist Natalie Claunch from the University of Florida, adding that while coral snakes aren't great climbers, a free meal was good motivation to do something out of the ordinary.
"The yellowjacket - which also love meat - must have thought they had claim to it!"
Not to be dissuaded, the coral snake later tried to strike again, although this time a little closer to the ground and a little farther away from the hungry wasps.
By the way, I have this footage too from later that same day when the coral made its next attempt from the ground. (Seeing this rose bush moving all "by itself" drew me back outside to check it out!!) So the coral survived any wasp sting! And wasps seem to still be present. pic.twitter.com/Dk1z7GWpnr— Evangeline Cummings (@EvieCummings23) October 21, 2019
"It was truly an amazing experience to witness nature in action," said Cummings. And thanks to her quick wits and a camera, we get to enjoy it, too.