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Snakes: They’re just like us – at least in one way.
Like humans, reptiles can rely on their species to calm them down in times of stress, new data shows. Research It was published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Ethology.
The study’s authors focused their research on southern Pacific rattlesnakes, or Crotalus helleri, which are common in southern California. Snakes exposed to stressful situations had lower heart rates in the presence of their partner compared to those exposed to stress alone.
These findings are the first time social conditioning — a phenomenon in which the presence of friends reduces the biological response to stress — has been documented in primates, according to lead study author Chelsea Martin, a doctoral student at Loma Linda University in California. It has already been seen In humans, mice, birds and non-human primates.
“Snakes and reptiles are really interesting because I think they’re often overlooked because of their behavior,” Martin said. “People are often afraid of snakes… (but) they’re not so different from us. They have mothers who care for their children. They can reduce their stress when they are together. It’s what we do as humans.”
How to study snake stress
Martin worked with Dr. William Hayes, professor of earth and biological sciences at Loma Linda, to design the study.
It was Hayes’ idea to investigate the snakes’ stress response, Martin said.
The research team keeps snakes away from people who don’t want them near their homes, she said, so Hayes spends a lot of time driving around with a bucket of reptiles in his car.
“When he came down the mountain, he noticed that when he had two snakes together in a bucket, they seemed to vibrate or not shake — as opposed to having only one snake in the bucket,” she said. Rattlesnakes shake their tailsThey emit their signature warning sound when threatened.
Another colleague suggested that this behavior could be a sign that the snakes are involved in social establishment, and his team designed an experiment for the snakes.
They used 25 wild-caught South Pacific snakes, including some from the lowlands and others from the mountains. (Mountain Pacific snakes are known to hibernate or spend the cold months with each other, but lowland snakes do not.)
The researchers placed the snakes in 19-liter plastic buckets, sealed them, and taped the containers to simulate a stressful environment. They used over-the-counter drugs to monitor the animals’ anxiety levels. When they tested these things in three ways, they were alone, with a friend, and with a fellow snake on a rope of the same size (to confirm the presence of another snake, and not only something else, but it brought about a reduced anxiety response).
Compared to being alone or on a leash, the snakes had significantly lower heart rates when they were placed in the bucket with a companion. And that result is true for the lowland and mountain snakes as well as for men and women.
What’s next for snake research?
These findings may have broad implications not only for Pacific rattlesnakes, but also for reptiles in general, the study authors said.
According to Martin and Hayes, similar socialization behavior can be found in many species of snakes, as well as in lizards, crocodiles and other scaly creatures.
“No one really sees[social establishment]in reptiles,” Hayes added.
Dr. Erica Nowak, a herpetologist and assistant research professor at the Center for Adaptive Western Landscapes at Northern Arizona University, agrees that until recently, research on the social behavior of snakes has been limited. She did not participate in the new study.
“I’m excited to see a well-designed study that adds to our understanding of sociality in snakes,” Nowak said in an email. “Since we scientists do not think that they are fully social animals, we do not carefully look for behaviors that support sociality because their sociality is only ‘mysterious’.”
This evidence that snakes engage in social interactions is consistent with other social behaviors she has observed in her own research, Nowak added.
“I have observed two wild male western diamondback rattlesnakes lying close to each other, traveling together during the movement and even protecting me,” she says.
This study may provide a starting point for further research into snake socialization. Nowak said she would like to see studies on how socialization affects the status of snakes. CortisolOtherwise known as the stress hormone. And studies like this one inform how snake keepers handle the animals in captivity.
“(T)his (and other) studies clearly show that snakes can benefit from having cages,” Nowak said.
The researchers also said that they believe that this study will have a positive effect on the public’s attitude towards snakes. Most people know that reptiles – especially the venomous species – are not wild.
“Please do not treat these as dangerous animals. Obviously they are. But they’re just trying to protect themselves,” Hayes said. “They scare us. They are inseparable animals. So we really appreciate more positive attention on snakes.
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