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Title: Do warning displays predict striking behavior in a viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)?

Abstract

Warning displays are defined as signals designed to intimidate predators or indicate a proclivity to fight. However, support for the idea that warning behaviors signal an intent to fight is largely based on anecdotes and isolated observations, and a complete understanding of antipredator behavior will only be achieved if specific hypotheses are experimentally tested. Herein, we tested in a North American viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), the hypothesis that warning displays serve as a reliable signal to potential predators that a snake will strike. The cottonmouth exhibits two stereotypical warning displays during predator confrontation, i.e., mouth gaping and tail vibrations, making it an ideal study organism to experimentally test the relationship between warning displays and defensive striking. To test this idea, we recorded the sequence of defensive behavior--gaping, tail vibrating, and striking--of cottonmouths towards a standardized predatory stimulus in the laboratory. As predicted, snakes that gaped during the trials were subsequently more likely to strike than snakes that did not. In contrast, striking behavior was independent of the occurrence of tail vibrations. Our results suggest that gaping behavior--but not tail-vibrating behavior--may provide an honest signal to would-be predators.

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), Aiken, SC
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
908672
Report Number(s):
SREL-3041
Journal ID: ISSN 0008-4301; CJZOAG; TRN: US200722%%746
DOE Contract Number:
DE-FC09-07SR22506
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Canadian Journal of Zoology; Journal Volume: 85
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
60 APPLIED LIFE SCIENCES; SNAKES; BEHAVIOR; ZOOLOGY; PREDATOR-PREY INTERACTIONS

Citation Formats

Glaudas, X. and C.T. Winne. Do warning displays predict striking behavior in a viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)?. United States: N. p., 2007. Web. doi:10.1139/Z07-025.
Glaudas, X. and C.T. Winne. Do warning displays predict striking behavior in a viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)?. United States. doi:10.1139/Z07-025.
Glaudas, X. and C.T. Winne. Mon . "Do warning displays predict striking behavior in a viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)?". United States. doi:10.1139/Z07-025.
@article{osti_908672,
title = {Do warning displays predict striking behavior in a viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus)?},
author = {Glaudas, X. and C.T. Winne},
abstractNote = {Warning displays are defined as signals designed to intimidate predators or indicate a proclivity to fight. However, support for the idea that warning behaviors signal an intent to fight is largely based on anecdotes and isolated observations, and a complete understanding of antipredator behavior will only be achieved if specific hypotheses are experimentally tested. Herein, we tested in a North American viperid snake, the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), the hypothesis that warning displays serve as a reliable signal to potential predators that a snake will strike. The cottonmouth exhibits two stereotypical warning displays during predator confrontation, i.e., mouth gaping and tail vibrations, making it an ideal study organism to experimentally test the relationship between warning displays and defensive striking. To test this idea, we recorded the sequence of defensive behavior--gaping, tail vibrating, and striking--of cottonmouths towards a standardized predatory stimulus in the laboratory. As predicted, snakes that gaped during the trials were subsequently more likely to strike than snakes that did not. In contrast, striking behavior was independent of the occurrence of tail vibrations. Our results suggest that gaping behavior--but not tail-vibrating behavior--may provide an honest signal to would-be predators.},
doi = {10.1139/Z07-025},
journal = {Canadian Journal of Zoology},
number = ,
volume = 85,
place = {United States},
year = {Mon Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 2007},
month = {Mon Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 2007}
}