A Loma Linda University study of the southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) has found that when venomous reptiles go through a stres
A Loma Linda University study of the southern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus helleri) has found that when venomous reptiles go through a stressful situation in the presence of another rattlesnake, the stress levels are lower than if the snake went through stress on its own.
The researchers say this is the first time that the phenomenon known as social buffering has been observed in reptiles, lead author and doctoral student Chelsea Martin said in a statement released to the media.
“Snakes and reptiles are really interesting because I think they’re often overlooked in their behavior,” Martin said. “People are often really afraid of snakes … (but) they’re not so different from us. They [certain species] have moms that take care of their children. They’re able to reduce their stress when they’re together. That’s something that we as humans do, too.”
Martin, along with Dr. William Hayes of Loma Linda, designed the study that explored the stress response on the southern Pacific rattlesnake. Hayes, an earth and biological sciences professor at the university came up with the idea to study the stress response of the venomous reptile.
“He had noticed that when he had two snakes in a bucket together as he was driving down the mountain that they seem to rattle less or not rattle at all — as opposed to if he just had one snake in the bucket,” Martin said.
Hayes has previously studied the Southern Pacific rattlesnake’s venom and how the granite spiny lizard may factor in higher potency rates of the venomous snake in the San Jacinto Mountains of California than other populations of the rattlesnake.
The researchers captured 25 Southern Pacific rattlesnakes from lowland areas as well as mountains and placed them in 19 liter plastic buckets, sealed them and simulated a stressful environment by striking the sides with a pipes. They used a heart rate monitor that can be purchased at a drug store to track the stress levels of the snakes in three scenarios: individually, with a companion snake, and with a rope that is about the same size as the research snakes. This was to ensure the presence of the second snake was causing the reduced stress response and not the rope.
The research indicated that the heart rates of the snakes with companion snakes was reduced while those paired with the rope had higher heart rates. They found that the snakes from both localities responded in the same manner regardless of the sex of the snake.
The researchers say their findings can have broad implications for reptiles in general and noted that social buffering behavior might exist in other snake species as well as in other reptile species.
Rattlesnake are known to reside in dens with other rattlesnakes. This study shows that stress levels are reduced in situations where the rattlesnakes are . . . rattled by outside forces.
The Southern Pacific rattlesnake is native to southwestern California into Baja California. It grows to between 24 and 55 inches and can be a pale brown, gray-brown and yellowish brown in coloration. The venom of this species may also be based on the animals in which it preys upon, according to a study of them and the granite spiny lizard. The venomous reptile is also known as the black diamond rattlesnake, black (diamond) rattler, gray diamond-back, mountain rattler, Pacific rattler, and San Diego rattler.
The complete paper, Social security: can rattlesnakes reduce acute stress through social buffering? can be read on the Frontiers in Ethology website.