Did you know that snakes can feel stressed and need another member of their species to calm them down, just like humans?
A new study was released Thursday in the journal Frontiers Ethology has suggested that slimy reptiles, like humans, may depend on others of their own species to remain calm under stress.
Southern California is home to many Crotalus helleri, or southern Pacific rattlesnakes, on which the study’s authors focused their research.
When snakes experienced stressful situations with a partner, their heart rates were found to be lower than when experiencing stress alone.
According to Chelsea Martin, doctoral candidate and lead study author at Loma Linda University in California, these results represent the first time social buffering, a phenomenon where nearby mates can reduce biological responses to stress, has been documented in reptiles. I went.
It has previously been observed in nonhuman primates, rodents, birds and humans.
“Snakes and reptiles are really interesting because I think they are often overlooked in their behavior,” Martin said. “People are often very scared of snakes… (but) they are not very different from us. They have mothers who take care of their young. When they are together they are able to reduce their stress. It It’s something that we humans do too.”
How to study snake stress
Martin and Dr. William Hess, professor of earth and biological sciences at Loma Linda University, designed a study to examine the snake’s stress response by removing rattlesnakes from the homes of people who didn’t want them around. CNN informed of.
Martin said, “When he was driving down the mountain he noticed that when he had two snakes in a bucket they rattled less or didn’t rattle at all – unlike if he had only one snake in the bucket. ” When threatened, rattlesnakes wag their tails and emit their characteristic warning sounds.
The team created an experiment for rattlesnakes after one of their colleagues suggested that this behavior might indicate that the snakes were engaging in social buffering.
25 South Pacific rattlesnakes were used, some from the mountains, where they are known to spend the winter months together, while others from lowlands, where they do not spend the winter months together, were caught in the wild. taken.
Researchers placed snakes in 19-litre plastic buckets and tested their stress levels using heart rate monitors as part of a study to understand the effect of companionship on the stress response.
They found that having a mate significantly lowered heart rates for both lowland and mountain-dwelling snakes, as well as both males and females.
Furthermore, the study authors suggest that social buffering behavior in rattlesnakes could have important implications for reptiles in general. Similar behavior may be present in various snake species, lizards, crocodiles, and other scales.
Dr. Erika Novak, herpetologist and assistant research professor at Northern Arizona University, believes that the sociability of snakes is limited by a lack of research on their social behavior.
This study may provide a starting point for further research on the sociality of snakes, potentially affecting their stress hormone levels and care in captivity.
The researchers also hope that the study will have a positive impact on people’s perception of snakes as not dangerous but merely trying to protect themselves.