Video recordings produced by Rulon Clark of San Diego State University and his team have revealed that about 50 percent of strikes by wild rattlesnakes are unsuccessful. This research has also revealed that rattlesnake attacks are most commonly thwarted by a rapid, evasive dodge maneuver initiated by the prey during the fraction of a second after the rattlesnake starts to strike, but before the rattlesnake reaches its prey. Read more in this Discovery.
Credit: Sanjay Joshi, UC-Davis
You may not love snakes, but you'd be happy to see one of these snake robots if you were trapped in a collapsed building. Howie Choset at Carnegie Mellon University and colleagues are designing snake robots that can navigate a variety of terrains, surmount obstacles in their way and function in range of conditions. Learn more in this Innovation Nation video.
Credit: Sarah Pollock, ABSMaterials
The Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS) of the Biological Sciences Directorate supports research aimed at an integrative understanding of organisms. The goal is to predict why organisms are structured the way they are, and function as they do.
June 3, 2013
Seeing Heat: The Sensory Systems of Boas, Pythons and Pit Vipers
The natural thermal imaging capabilities of snakes could inspire new artificial sensors
With National Science Foundation- (NSF) support, biologist Michael Grace and his team study infrared (thermal) sensors in snakes. The goal of this research is to determine the mechanisms underlying predatory and defensive behavior guided by these extraordinarily novel sensors in snakes. Pit vipers, pythons and boas possess special organs that form images in the brain of the thermal environment, much like vision occurs in the human brain. Thus, these snakes "see" heat, and this amazing system is the most sensitive infrared detector on Earth, natural or artificial. A better understanding of infrared-based thermal imaging in snakes is important not only for understanding complex behavior in these highly efficient predators, but also for understanding the evolution of imaging sensors and the behaviors they support in other animals including people.
"Results from this research could have downstream applications for defense, as well as wildlife management," notes Michelle Elekonich, one of the program directors in the Animal Behavior program within the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences. "This project cleverly uses behavioral and other tests that allow the snakes to tell us about the capabilities and limits of their heat-sensing receptors, and how they use them. Knowing more about how snakes use this sensory capability is useful for managing invasive species. And, it's certainly helpful for designing new biologically inspired devices."
The Grace laboratory at the Florida Institute of Technology is researching the mechanisms of infrared imaging by rattlesnakes and pythons, using molecular biology, biochemistry, physiology and behavior. This research will identify the molecular and cellular mechanisms of high-sensitivity thermo-reception, and will provide an exciting new motivation-based behavioral assessment of sensory function. This work will advance the development of artificial sensor technologies for industrial, defense, and biomedical applications. It will also provide new insight into the ecology and management of native and invasive species including the diamondback rattlesnake (a pit viper) and the Burmese python, an invasive mega-predator now firmly established in south Florida and capable of spreading across the southern United States.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.