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Venomous sea snakes play heads or tails with their predators
Date:8/5/2009

head" was facing him while the tail probed the coral. Rasmussen's surprise grew when he saw a second head emerge from the coral instead of the expected tail. It was only when the snake swam away that the first head was clearly seen to be a paddling tail.

To build upon this discovery researchers examined 98 Sea Kraits from three major museum collections in Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen while also monitoring the behaviour of wild Sea Kraits in Solomon Islands during the Danish Galathea 3 Expedition. The research confirmed that all snakes of this species had a distinctive colouration pattern, with a bright yellow horseshoe marking on the tip of the head and the tail. The yellow was deeper than the colours on the rest of the body and the black colorations were much longer than the dark bands on the rest of the body, highlighting the similarity between the head and the tail.

The reason for this mixture of behaviour and coloration results from a developed defence strategy needed when the snake is probing for prey. Despite being extremely venomous sea snakes are susceptible to attack from several predators such as sharks, large bony fishes, and even birds.

"The value of such an adaptation is twofold; it may increase the chances of surviving predator attack by exposing a less 'vital' body part, but more importantly it may deter attack in the first place if attackers perceive the tail as the venomous snakes head," said Rasmussen.

Similar defence mechanisms have been discovered in lizards, and some land snakes have developed ingenious camouflage deterrent behaviour strategies, but this defence has never been associated with other lethally venomous predators such as sea snakes.

Traditionally the only evidence of a defence behaviour strategy in sea snakes has been documented in individual cases, when a snake was exposed to and aware of an imminent danger. This research is the first record of a combined false-head-behaviour and f
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Contact: Ben Norman
Benorman@wiley.com
44-124-377-0375
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert

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