Community structure and ecology of snakes in fields of oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis) in the Niger Delta, southern Nigeria
Aspects of community structure and ecology of snakes were studied in the years 2004–2006 in fields of oil palm trees ( Elaeis guineensis) of three study areas in Southern Nigeria. A total of 284 individual snakes, belonging to twelve species of three families (seven Colubridae, four Elapidae, one Viperidae), were recorded, including both sighted and captured individuals (not including in this count the individuals that escaped before identification to species level could be made). All the study areas were nearly identical in terms of species composition. Most snakes (about 67%) were recorded during the dry season months, when the fruits of the oil palm ripe, thus attracting lots of organisms that are potential prey for snakes. The most important food items for oil palm snakes were Agama lizards, birds and rodents, but they also fed on skinks, geckos, fruit bats and tree frogs. Snakes were spotted climbing with peak frequencies occurring in the range of 16–18 m above the ground level. In general, oil palm trees within the range of 16–27 m high harboured higher number of snakes. Climbing snakes were nonrandomly positioned on the trees: the highest percentage of snakes (68%) was lodged between the leaf bases and oil palm fruit bunches. The general implications of the given data are discussed.