Rattlesnake strikes are far more sophisticated than a simple ‘spring’ release


More than half of a rattlesnake’s body may be involved in striking behaviour, particularly where the strike is defensive, and the anterior third of body length is usually active when hunting. The remainder of the body ‘anchors’ the snake to a solid base position. Tracking  the kinematics of a single strike reveals that different segments of the body reach their maximum acceleration at different times, with the head and anterior sections peaking first. This allows for the fastest approach and best chance of successful prey capture. The later acceleration of the posterior sections may act to dissipate the forces from the anterior section, decelerating the head before contact with the prey or attacker, protecting it from excessive impact. The angle of attack for the curved fangs needs to be fairly steep, and the flexible vertebrae around the neck allow for arching during strike to achieve this. All this information indicates that the rattlesnake strike is in fact not well represented by the analogy of a coiled spring waiting to strike, as this would imply equal distribution of forces and their simultaneous activation, where in fact it is clear that striking behaviour in snakes is far more mechanically sophisticated.

Image courtesy of Patrick Gries. To see more of Patrick’s photographs, click here. To read more about rattlesnake strikes click here.

Kinematics: The branch of mechanics which concerns motion and moving objects or particles.


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