Field video recordings reveal factors influencing predatory strike success of free-ranging rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp.)

Abstract

Keywords: antipredator behaviour Crotalus horridus Crotalus oreganus Crotalus ruber Crotalus scutulatus foraging behaviour predatoreprey interaction snake strike kinematics Research on predatoreprey interactions often focuses largely on prey behaviour, treating predators as static danger, rather than as active behavioural participants that can respond adaptively to prey choices. A complete understanding of the functional significance of both predator attack behaviours and prey escape behaviours can only come from examining the interaction between both parties. For example, although the predatory strike of venomous snakes has been studied extensively in the laboratory, we have little understanding of the proximate factors influencing snake strike behaviour under natural conditions. Here, we report details of the analysis of predatory strikes of free-ranging rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp.) towards their natural prey. We found that over half of strike attempts were unsuccessful, and the most significant factor influencing strike success was the ability of prey animals to initiate a rapid evasive dodge manoeuvre in the fraction of a second after snakes initiated strikes, but before snake strikes contacted them. Snakes, in turn, initiated strikes most frequently towards the flank of laterally moving prey, which is probably an attempt to counter the ability of prey to dodge strikes. Almost all animals have predators, and predation risk has long been appreciated as a major selective force in evolutionary biology. Consequently, a large body of research, both theoretical an empirical , has been devoted to how prey animals assess and respond to predation risk (reviewed in: Lima & Dill 1990; Caro 2005). Heightened vigilance and wariness come at a cost of increased physiological stress and decreased time and energy for other activities (Such trade-offs are recognized as a necessary consequence of maximizing lifetime reproductive success (Clark 1994; Lind & Cresswell 2005), and the effect of these behavioural changes on trophic interactions can greatly influence the dynamics of ecological communities (Lima 1998; Werner & Peacor 2003). However, the outcome of any predation event depends on the interplay between both prey and predator behaviours, and much less attention has been given to how predators exhibit behavioural adaptations that may circumvent antipredator defences (Lima 2002). For example, because predators can attack prey quickly and without prior warning, prey have evolved antipredator behaviours to detect attacks before they occur should alter the timing and orientation of their attacks in ways that minimize the probability of detection and avoidance by prey. The few empirical examples available do indicate …

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Clark2012FieldVR, title={Field video recordings reveal factors influencing predatory strike success of free-ranging rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp.)}, author={Rulon W. Clark and Sean Tangco and Matthew Barbour}, year={2012} }