Puff Adders Lure Prey with Their Tongues

The Science Teacher, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Puff Adders Lure Prey with Their Tongues


The puff adder (Bitis arietans) is one of Africa's deadliest snake species due to its deadly venom and its stealthy way of ambushing prey. Now researchers have learned of another strategy in its arsenal: The snake actively lures prey into striking range.

By capturing and analyzing thousands of hours of video footage of puff adders hunting in the wild, researchers have shown that puff adders use "lingual luring" to attract amphibian prey.

"A puff adder's strike is typically no longer than one or two head lengths in distance, so it needs a strategy to attract potential prey to come within that striking range," said herpetologist Xavier Glaudas. "We have found that puff adders use their tongues that resemble an invertebrate that frogs feed on to increase prey capture rates."

Glaudas and researcher Graham Alexander tracked 86 puff adders over three years at the Dinokeng Game Reserve north of Johannesburg, South Africa. Glaudas captured wild snakes and tracked them by surgically implanting radio transmitters into the snakes and releasing them at their place of capture.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"We really wanted to have a closer look into the secretive lives of these fascinating animals and specifically study their foraging ecology," Glaudas said.

Glaudas and Alexander set up video cameras in front of puff adders that were lying in ambush position. "We placed our cameras mounted on a tripod about 70 cm away from the snake, and the camera continuously recorded what was going on. We came back the next morning to get the memory cards and reviewed everything that happened during the night," Glaudas said. …

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