Sunday, 5 February 2017

A lure at both ends: Puff adders leave nothing to chance

Date: February 1, 2017
Source: University of the Witwatersrand

The Puff Adder (Bitis arietans) is one of Africa's deadliest snake species, not only due to its deadly venom, but also because of its stealthy behaviour in the way that it hunts by ambushing prey.

It has now emerged, however, that it has another deadly weapon in its arsenal, as it not only lies in wait for prey, but that it actively lures prey into striking range.

By capturing and analysing thousands of hours of video footage of puff adders hunting in the wild, Wits University researchers, Xavier Glaudas and Graham Alexander, have shown that puff adders use what is termed "lingual luring" to attract amphibian prey closer, and increase the odds of catching it.

"A puff adder's strike is typically no longer than one or two head lengths (5-10cm) in distance, so it needs a strategy to attract potential prey to come within that striking range in order to catch it," says Glaudas, a herpetologist and Post Doctorate Fellow at the Alexander Herpetology Laboratory at Wits University. "We have found that puff adders use their tongues that resemble an invertebrate that frogs feed on to increase prey capture rate."

Funded by the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration, Glaudas and Alexander tracked 86 puff adders over three years at the Dinokeng Game Reserve, about 100km north of Johannesburg in South Africa. Glaudas captured wild snakes and tracked them by surgically implanting radio transmitters into the snakes and releasing them at their place of capture.

"We really wanted to have a closer look into the secretive lives of these fascinating animals, and specifically study their foraging ecology," says Glaudas.

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