Horned Pitviper (Serpentes: Viperidae: Ophryacus smaragdinus) Can Detect Substrate Vibrations of Potential Prey of Differing Size

Octavio Iván Martínez-Vaca León, Ana Gloria Gutiérrez-García, Blandina Bernal-Morales, Juan Francisco Rodríguez-Landa, Laura Teresa Hernández-Salazar, Jorge Eufrates Morales-Mávil


Despite that snakes lack outer traces of an auditory system, they respond to acoustic stimuli in the air, in terrestrial substrates and in water, through a functioning cochlea and a somatic system. In reptiles, the use of vibrations has been primarily associated with communication among individuals. However, vibrations also can be a useful mechanism in predator-prey interactions, facilitating efficient hunting. The aim of our study was to examine the ability of horned pitvipers (Ophryacus smaragdinus) to detect and discriminate prey through their vibrations, which were recorded and played back with a transmitter of acoustic waves under a controlled experimental condition. We analyzed the capability of snakes to detect and discriminate potential prey (mouse and lizard) of different sizes, by playing back vibrations that prey species emitted when moving. Our results showed that O. smaragdinus has the ability to detect vibrations of its prey, but it does not discriminate among prey species or size based on the vibrations. We conclude that the auditory system of O. smaragdinus is an important first step to detect prey via vibrations, and that this species likely uses other complementary sensory strategies, such as chemoperception and or thermoperception, for prey recognition.


auditory system; predation; prey; sensory system; vibrations; Viperidae

Full Text:



Cadwell M. S. (2014) «Interactions between air borne sound and substrate vibration in animal», in: R. B. Cocroft, M. Gogala, P. S. M. Hill, and A. Wessel (eds.), Animal Signals and Communication, Studying Vibrational Communication 3, Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg – Berlin, pp. 65 – 93.

Campbell J. A. and Lamar W. W. (2004), The Venomous Reptiles of the Western Hemisphere, Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca.

Catania K. C., Leitch D. B., and Gauthier D. (2010), «Function of the appendages in tentacle snakes (Erpeton tentaculatus)», J. Exp. Biol., 213, 359 – 367.

Chen Q., Deng H., Brauth S. E., Ding L., and Tang Y. (2012), «Reduced performance of prey targeting in pit vipers with contralaterally occluded infrared and visual senses», PloS One, 7(5), 1 – 8.

Chiszar D., Taylor S. V., Radcliffe C. W., Smith H. M., and O’Connell B. (1981), «Effects of chemical and visual stimuli upon chemosensory searching by garter snakes and rattlesnakes», J. Herpetol., 15(4), 415 – 423.

Christensen C. B., Christensen-Dalsgaard J., Brandt C., and Madsen P. T. (2012), «Hearing with a tympanic ear: good vibration and poor sound-pressure detection in the royal python, Python regius», J. Exp. Biol., 215, 331 – 342.

Clark R. W. (2004a), «Feeding experience modifies the assessment of ambush sites by the timber rattlesnake, a sit and wait predator», Ethology, 110(6), 471 – 483.

Clark R. W. (2004b), «Timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) use chemical cues to select ambush sites», J. Chem. Ecol., 30(3), 607 – 617.

de Cock B. T. (1983), «Thermal sensitivity as a specialization for prey capture and feeding in snakes», Am. Zoologist, 23(2), 363 – 375.

Ebert J. (2007), Infrared Sense in Snakes — Behavioral and Anatomical Examinations (Crotalus atrox, Python regius, Corallus hortulanus). Ph. D. Thesis, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University.

Elias D. O. and Mason A. C. (2014) «The role of wave and substrate heterogeneity in vibratory communication: Practical issues in studying the effect of vibratory environments in communication», in: R. B. Cocroft, M. Gogala, P. S. M. Hill and A. Wessel (eds.), Animal Signals and Communication, Studying Vibrational Communication 3, Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg – Berlin, pp. 31 – 46.

Friedel P., Young B. A., and van Hemmen J. L. (2008), «Rocking the boat: Auditory localization of ground-borne vibration in snakes», Phys. Rev. Lett., 100, 048701 – 048704.

Grünwald C. I., Jones J. M., Franz-Chávez H., and Ahumada-Carrillo I. T. (2015), «A new species of Ophryacus (Serpentes: Viperidae: Crotalinae) from eastern Mexico, with comments on the taxonomy of related pitvipers», Mesoam. Herpetol., 2(4), 388 – 416.

Hartline P. H. (1971), «Physiological basis for detection of sound and vibration in snakes», J. Exp. Biol., 54(2), 349 – 371.

Hebets E. A., Elias D. O., Mason A. C., Miller G. L., and Stratton G. E. (2008), «Substrate-dependent signaling success in the wolf spider, Schizocosa retrorsa», Anim. Behav., 75(2), 605 – 615.

Jones B. S., Lynn W. F., and Stone M. O. (2001), «Thermal modeling of snake infrared reception: evidence for limited detection range», J. Theor. Biol., 209(2), 201 – 211.

Kardong K. V. and Smith T. L. (2002), «Proximate factors involved in rattlesnakes predatory behavior: a review», in: G. W. Schuett, M. Höggren, M. E. Douglas, and H. W. Greene (eds.), Biology of the Vipers, Eagle Mountain Publishing L. C., Utah, pp. 253 – 266.

Mason M. J. and Narins P. M. (2001), «Seismic signal use by fossorial mammals, « Am. Zoologist, 41, 1171 – 1184.

O’Connell-Rodwell C. E., Wood J. D., Rodwell T. C., Puria S., Partan S. R., Keefe R., Shriver D., Arnason B. T., and Hart L. A. (2006), «Wild elephant (Loxodonta africana) breeding herds respond to artificial transmitted seismic stimuli», Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 59(6), 842 – 850.

Randall J. A. and Matocq M. D. (1997), «Why do Kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spectabilis) footdrum at snakes?» Behav. Ecol., 8(4), 404 – 413.

Reiserer R. S. (2001) «Stimulus control of caudal luring and other feeding responses: A program for research on visual perception in vipers», in: G. W. Schuett, M. Höggren and H. W. Greene (eds.), Biology of the Vipers, Eagle Mountain Publishing L. C., Utah, pp. 361 – 383.

Saviola A. J., Chiszar D., Smith H. M., and Mackessy S. P. (2013), «Chemosensory response in stunted praire rattlesnakes Crotalus viridis viridis», Curr. Zool., 59(2), 175 – 179.

Schulterbrandt T. G., Kubie J., Gizycki H. V., Zuri I., and Halpern M. (2008), «Patterns of tongue-flicking by garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) during presentation of chemicals under varying conditions», in: J. L. Hurst, R. J. Beynon, S. C. Roberts and T. D. Wyatt (eds.), Chemical Signal in Vertebrates, Springer, New York, pp. 345 – 356.

Shine R. (1991), «Why do larger snakes eat larger prey items?» Funct. Ecol., 5(4), 493 – 502.

Stone A., Ford N., and Holtzman D. (2000), «Spatial learning and shelter selection by juvenile spotted pythons, Anteresia maculosus», J. Herpetol., 34(4), 575 – 587.

Theodoratus D. H. and Chiszar D. (2000), «Habitat selection and prey odor in the foraging behavior of western rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis)», Behaviour, 137, 119 – 135.

Van Dyke J. U. and Grace M. S. (2010), «The role of thermal contrast in infrared-based defensive targeting by the copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix», Anim. Behav., 79(5), 993 – 999.

Voris H. K. and Moffett M. W. (1981), «Size and proportion relationship between the beaked sea snake and its prey», Biotropica, 13, 15 – 19.

Weaver R. E. and Kardong K. V. (2009), «Microhabitat and prey odor selection in Hypsiglena chlorophaea», Copeia, 2009(3), 475 – 482.

Westhoff G., Fry B. G., and Bleckmann H. (2005), «Sea snakes (Lapemis curtus) are sensitive to low-amplitude water motions», Zoology, 108(3), 195 – 200.

Westhoff G., Morsch M., and Ebert J. (2006), «Infrared detection in the rattlesnake Crotalus atrox — from behavioural studies to midbrain recordings», in: M. Vences, J. Köhler, T. Ziegler, and W. Böhme (eds.), Herpetologia Bonnensis II. Proceedings of the 13th Congress of the Societas Europaea Herpetologica, SHE, Bonn, pp. 225 – 228.

Young B. A. (2005) «Response of the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) to underwater pressure waves», in: R. W. Henderson and R. Powell (eds.), Biology of Boas and Pythons, Eagle Mountain Publishing, L. C., Utah, pp. 199 – 206.

Young B. A. and Aguiar A. (2002), «Response of western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) to airborne sounds», J. Exp. Biol., 205, 3087 – 3092.

Young B. A., Aguiar A., and Lillywhite H. (2008), «Foraging cues used by insular Florida cottonmouths, Agkistrodon piscivorus conanti», S. Am. J. Herpetol., 3(2), 135 – 144.

Young B. A. and Morain M. (2002), «The use of groun-borne vibrations for prey localization in the Saharan sand vipers (Cerastes)», J. Exp. Biol., 205, 661 – 665.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.30906/1026-2296-2020-27-4-201-208


  • There are currently no refbacks.

You can subscribe to the print or electronic version of the journal on the site of EastView Company. If you have any questions, please write to the email sales@ivis.ru