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Chem Senses. 2012 Nov;37(9):883-96. doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjs072. Epub 2012 Sep 1.

The function of oscillatory tongue-flicks in snakes: insights from kinematics of tongue-flicking in the banded water snake (Nerodia fasciata).

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  • 1Département Ecologie et Gestion de la Biodiversité, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France. daghfous@mnhn.fr

Abstract

Tongue-flicking is an important sensory behavior unique to squamate reptiles in which chemical stimuli gathered by the tongue are delivered the vomeronasal organ situated in the roof of the mouth. Because tongue-flick numbers can easily be quantified, this behavior has been widely used as a measure of vomeronasal sampling in snakes using related variables such as tongue-flick rate or tongue-flick/attack score. Surprisingly, the behavior itself and especially the function of the oscillatory tongue-flicks remains poorly understood. To describe the overall kinematics of tongue-flicking in the colubrid snake Nerodia fasciata and to test predictions on the function of oscillatory tongue-flicks, we filmed the tongue-flicks of 8 adult Nerodia fasciata using 4 synchronized high-speed cameras. Three-dimensional kinematic and performance variables were extracted from the videos in order to quantify tongue movements. Based on the kinematic analysis, we demonstrate the existence of 2 functional and behavioral tongue-flick categories. Tongue-flicks with oscillations meet all the criteria for being adapted to the collection of odorants; simple downward extensions appear better suited for the rapid pick up of nonvolatile chemical stimuli from the substrate or a food item. External stimuli such as tactile and/or vomeronasal stimulation can induce a shift between these categories.

PMID:
22942105
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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