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Defensive Behavior of Pitvipers

Xavier Glaudas

cottonmouth timber rattlesnake pigmy rattlesnake

The defensive behavior of animals towards humans has not been well documented. Of the few studies done, many have focused on snakes. The findings from these studies reveal much intra- and inter-specific variability. The following factors have been found to influence snakesí defensive behavior: body temperature, sex, reproductive condition, and body size of the snake, as well as the intensity of stimuli.

In my study, I intend to investigate the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that influence the defensive behavior of several species of pitvipers including the cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus), the pigmy rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius), and the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). I will consider several variables such as snake experience, body temperature, size, posture, and threat severity.

The purpose of my study is to answer questions from both the snake and the personís perspectives: What do humans do that influences the risk of being bitten? What are the snakeís intrinsic factors that influence the likelihood of it being aggressive? This study may prove useful first to limit the number of people getting bitten, and second to provide better insight of venomous snakesí behavior, which would facilitate conservation. Testing several species will allow comparing the differences in behavior exhibited by pitvipers. This research will therefore help elucidate the adaptive significance of defensive behavior patterns across and within crotaline species.

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