Saturday, 2 January 2016

Super venomous snake is first animal ever to become ‘scentless’

JANUARY 1, 2016

by Brett Smith

We’ve all heard about camouflaging that hides an animal from sight, but what about an animal that can camouflage its scent?

According to a new study in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a venomous snake called the puff adder is capable of masking its scent from would-be predators.

Indigenous to Africa and Saudi Arabia, Bitis arietans, or the puff adder, hunts by ambushing its prey. One of the reasons the snake so effective is that the animal has no observable scent, a team of researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa said in the new report. The study team said the snake uses a type of olfactory camouflage referred to as “chemical crypsis”.

In the study, scientists trained both dogs and meerkats to identify the scent of various snakes. Both animals could differentiate between cloths that smelled like snakes and those that didn't. The meerkats had been only exposed to brown snakes and puff adders—since those two snakes are the only ones that live in their habitat in the wild. The two animals were actually equally incapable of selecting the scent of the puff adder. Incidentally, the dogs were better at smelling wild snakes than captive ones.

The puff adder is a fairly thick 3-foot-long snake that sits still and watches for prey to wander to it. But the adder’s scentless nature might not just serve its hunting game. While it’s extremely poisonous, it’s not very quick. The scientists noted that in previous reports that followed puff adders, the more mobile the snake was, the greater chance it would be caught by predators. Scentlessness could be for the snake’s protection, the researchers said.

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