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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The deception of the snake: this is how rattlesnakes scare us away

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Quitzé Fernández
Quitzé Fernándezhttps://www.amonite.com.mx
Amonite es un sitio dedicado a la divulgación científica para niños y jóvenes. Somos un grupo de amigos que escucha, cuenta historias y las plasma en algo parecido a un papel. Por medio de la ilustración y los medios audiovisuales buscamos acercar las novedades de ciencia y tecnología con un lenguaje accesible para todos. Amonite es un proyecto binacional editado y diseñado entre México y Argentina. Nace en 2017 a iniciativa de Quitzé Fernández, quien obtuvo en 2013 el Premio Nacional de Periodismo y Divulgación Científica, convocado por el Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología de México (Conacyt), con la crónica La mujer que encontró dinosaurios en el patio de su casa. A él se unieron los ilustradores Daniel Galindo y Jess Silva, que han generado trabajo visual para diarios e instituciones del norte de México; y más adelante los periodistas José Juan Zapata y Jessica Jaramillo, en la edición y generación de contenido, desde Buenos Aires, Argentina. Todos ellos forman parte del staff permanente de Amonite, junto a un grupo de colaboradores que aportan sus visiones periodísticas, visuales y literarias del mundo de la ciencia.

Photo: Pixnio (CC)

Rattlesnakes are poisonous, but the truth is that they just want to live free from threats. They have developed a technique so that their characteristic sound makes us think that they are closer than they really are.

It is one of the most famous and at the same time most shocking sounds of nature. The rattlesnake’s dry click may make us fearful, but it’s a fascinating piece of animal engineering. So much so that scientists are still unraveling its secrets. Will you join us to meet them?

The scientific name of the rattlesnake is Crotalus , they are a whole genus of poisonous snakes that inhabit the American continent. Its different species inhabit the entire geography from southeastern Canada to northern Argentina. And although with differences, each species has a rattle on the tip of the tail. This is made up of walls -horny cases- that when moving generate the characteristic sound.

The poison of snakes is another separate issue, since this genus is one of the most dangerous animals for humans in nature. Its venom substance destroys red blood cells, affecting body tissue and circulation. Therefore, its bite can cause death, if it is not treated with the necessary antidote.

Snakes only attack when they feel threatened. Like many other animals, the last thing rattlesnakes want is to be disturbed in their natural habitat. And they have developed a sound strategy to confuse us, which German scientists recently discovered.

In a study published in the journal Current Biology at the end of 2021, researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and the Technical University of Munich They found that the snakes alter the frequency of their sound to trick potential threats into thinking they are closer than they really are.

A sound not so close
The scientists conducted experiments using objects, including a human-looking torso, that seemed to approximate snakes. The sound emitted by the reptile’s rattle increased to 40 hertz as the suspected threat approached, and abruptly moved to a higher range of between 60 and 100 Hz.

The next step was to create a virtual reality scenario to test how eleven people perceived this change in the snake’s rattle. As the humans got closer, the snake increased the rate of the rattle, suddenly jumping up to 70 hertz when the virtual distance was four meters. However, people estimated that the animal was only a meter away from them.

This evolutionary advancement of snakes helped them to have an advantage and avoid being stepped on easily.

a threatened snake
The rattlesnake is an essential part of Mexican identity, as it appears on the national coat of arms being devoured by a golden eagle. However, it faces different threats to its conservation, which is why the Official Mexican Standard NOM-059 SEMARNAT-2010 lists 25 species of Crotalus in the categories of Threatened (A) or Subject to special protection (Pr).

Snakes face various factors such as habitat loss, illegal collection and the false perception that they are harmful animals. As if that were not enough, many people continue to believe in supposed medicinal properties to treat conditions such as cancer or AIDS. However, there are no scientific reports to date that prove these benefits.

The truth is that these beliefs have only managed to reduce their populations, bringing with them the threat of their extinction. Snakes are necessary for ecological balance since, as predators, they control the population of other animals in their environment. It is up to us to help these fascinating animals continue to inhabit the mountains and deserts of our country.

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