Snakes are similar to humans in one particular way. According to a recent study published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Ethology, the slithery reptiles may depend on others of their type, like humans, to remain calm in stressful situations.
The Southern Pacific rattlesnakes, or Crotalus helleri, which are widespread in Southern California, were the subject of the study’s authors’ investigation. They discovered that, compared to snakes that experienced stressful events alone, those who did so with a buddy showed lower heart rates.
According to main research author Chelsea Martin, a PhD student at Loma Linda University in California, these results represent the first time social buffering, a phenomenon in which having company can lessen biological reactions to stress, has been observed in reptiles.
It has previously been seen in nonhuman primates, rodents, birds, and humans. Martin remarked that reptiles and snakes are particularly fascinating since, in his opinion, their behavior is frequently disregarded. “People frequently have a great fear of snakes; however, they are actually quite similar to humans. They have mothers who look after their kids.
When they are together, they can lessen their tension. That is something we do as people as well. Dr. William Hayes, a professor of earth and biological sciences at Loma Linda University, and Martin collaborated on the study’s planning.
Behind the Research
Martin said that Hayes had the idea to study the snakes’ stress reactions. She said that because the study team removes rattlesnakes from areas where people don’t want them to live, Hayes spends a lot of time traveling with buckets of the snakes in his van.
When he had two snakes in a bucket together, they seemed to rattle less or not at all as he was driving down the mountain, in contrast to when he had just one snake in the bucket, she claimed.
When threatened, rattlesnakes frequently shake their tails and make their distinctive warning sound. Following a suggestion from a different colleague that this behavior may indicate that the snakes were engaged in social buffering, their group created an experiment for the rattlesnakes.
They employed 25 wild Southern Pacific rattlesnakes, some from the lowlands and others from the highlands, that were collected. (In contrast to lowland snakes, Pacific rattlesnakes in the highlands are known to overwinter together or spend the cold months in one another’s company.) The researchers shut up the 19-liter plastic buckets and hit them with pipes to create a stressful situation for the snakes.