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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2006 Sep;192(9):941-7. Epub 2006 Jun 20.

Behavioural examination of the infrared sensitivity of rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox).

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Institute of Zoology, University of Bonn, Poppelsdorfer Schloss, 53115 Bonn, Germany.


Pitvipers (Crotalinae) and boid snakes (Boidae) possess highly sensitive infrared (IR) receptors. The ability of these snakes to image IR radiation allows the assessment of the direction and distance of an IR source (such as warm-blooded prey) in the absence of visual cues. The aim of this study was to determine the behavioural threshold of snakes to an IR stimulus. A moving IR source of constant size and temperature was presented to rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) at various distances (10-160 cm) from their snout. The snakes' responses were quantified by measuring distinct behavioural changes during stimulus presentation (head jerks, head fixed, freezing, rattling and tongue-flicking). The results revealed that C. atrox can detect an artificial IR stimulus resembling a mouse in temperature and size up to a distance of 100 cm, which corresponds to a radiation density of 3.35 x 10(-3) mW/cm2. These behavioural results reveal a 3.2 times higher sensitivity to IR radiation than earlier electrophysiological investigations.

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