HomePOPULARDice Snakes Display Dramatic "Playing Dead" Defense Mechanism

Dice Snakes Display Dramatic “Playing Dead” Defense Mechanism

On Golem Grad Island in North Macedonia, a fascinating defense mechanism is at play among the local dice snakes. These snakes, characterized by their patterned scales, employ a unique strategy when confronted by predators: thanatosis, or playing dead. When seized by a predator, they engage in an elaborate performance, writhing around, emitting strong odors of musk and faeces, and even simulating bleeding from their mouths, all while appearing completely limp with their tongues hanging out.

Recent research published in Biology Letters suggests that this dramatic display may serve a crucial survival function for the snakes. Similar to actors using props to enhance their performances, these snakes seem to utilize their foul-smelling secretions to make their portrayal of death more convincing.

Thanatosis, observed in various animals from insects to mammals, is a well-known defense strategy. Opossums, in particular, are renowned for their convincing feigning of death.

To test this hypothesis, researchers conducted field experiments involving 263 dice snakes (Natrix tessellata). They observed instances of smearing faeces and musk during predator encounters.

“Our results underscore the functional integration of antipredator behaviors across different phases of predator-prey interactions, highlighting the importance of future research focusing on the sequential display of behaviors,” noted the researchers.

For animals employing thanatosis, the stakes are high. While playing dead can confuse or repulse predators, providing an opportunity for escape, it also carries risks. Success depends on the animal’s ability to remain perfectly still in close proximity to the predator, which can be challenging. The study suggests that the more convincing the performance, the less time the snake spends vulnerable while playing dead.

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