Snake Modulates Constriction in Response to Prey's Heartbeat
Student author: Allison E. Hall
Student author: Amanda W. Hayes
Student author: Katelyn J. McCann
Many species of snakes use constriction—the act of applying pressure via loops of their trunk—to subdue and kill their prey. Constriction is costly and snakes must therefore constrict their prey just long enough to ensure death. However, it remains unknown how snakes determine when their prey is dead. Here, we demonstrate that boas (Boa constrictor) have the remarkable ability to detect a heartbeat in their prey and, based on this signal, modify the pressure and duration of constriction accordingly. We monitored pressure generated by snakes as they struck and constricted warm cadaveric rats instrumented with a simulated heart. Snakes responded to the beating heart by constricting longer and with greater total pressure than when constricting rats with no heartbeat. When the heart was stopped midway through the constriction, snakes abandoned constriction shortly after the heartbeat ceased. Furthermore, snakes naive to live prey also responded to the simulated heart, suggesting that this behaviour is at least partly innate. These results are an example of how snakes integrate physiological cues from their prey to modulate a complex and ancient behavioural pattern.
Boback, Scott M., Allison E. Hall, Katelyn J. McCann, Amanda W. Hayes, Jeffrey S. Forrester, and Charles F. Zwemer. "Snake Modulates Constriction in Response to Prey's Heartbeat." Biology Letters 8, no. 3 (2012): 473-476.