An anaconda’s playdate with dolphins took a weird turn

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But Sonja Wild, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany, who was not part of the study, was skeptical the interaction was deliberately informative. It’s more plausible that the juveniles were watching because they were curious, she said.

And because anacondas are strong, Dr. Wild wonders if the snake was hurt or dead before the dolphins got to it. Of all the things you could take away, “it seems a bit extraordinary,” she said.

“This is the first time I’ve heard of dolphins playing with a big snake,” added Dr Wild, who has observed bottlenose dolphins using seashells as tools.

Something else in the photos stood out – the erect penises of the male dolphins.

“It could have been sexually stimulating for them,” said Diana Reiss, a marine mammal scientist and cognitive psychologist at Hunter College in New York, who was not involved in the study. “It could have been something to rub on.”

The excited males could have had sex with each other before the snake became entangled.

Researchers who study dolphins are well aware of the animals’ sexual tendencies, such as rubbing their genitals on toys or inserting their penises into objects, both animate and inanimate. They often use their penises for tactile interactions, says Dr. Reiss. She even observed male bottlenose dolphins trying to enter the blowhole of a rescued pilot whale in an aquarium. It is possible, she added, that the males attempted to insert their penises into the snake.

“There are so many questions,” says Entiauspe-Neto.

Much more is known about ocean dolphins than about river dolphins, in part because it’s harder to see what’s going on when the river water is muddy. Although limited in nature, “these observations are still valuable,” says Dr. Reiss. “It gives us another insight into the lives of these animals, especially in the wild.”

Whatever happened in that animal encounter is not the stuff of children’s storybooks.

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