To capture this nighttime scene, researchers tracked rattlesnakes by radio via implanted transmitters, and then positioned cameras near locations where the snakes liked to coil up in preparation for an ambush.
After installing infrared lights to illuminate the area for video, the scientists monitored a live view of a coiled snake for hours, and then they triggered the cameras when a kangaroo rat approached. Eventually, they captured video of four successful strikes and four misses.
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The scientists found that the rattlesnakes' strikes were quicker than previously determined in studies that observed snakes in a laboratory setting. Even so, the snakes didn't always hit their targets, and often, the misses were very dramatic. The new study's findings also hinted that kangaroo rats might store energy in their tendons, allowing them to jump quickly and with more power when they're attacked.
Exploring the deadly dance between a snake and its prey in the wild provides a more accurate picture of the animals' behavior, according to study lead author Timothy Higham, an associate professor in the department of biology at the University of California, Riverside.
"Predator-prey interactions are naturally variable - much more so than we would ever observe in a controlled laboratory setting," Higham said in a statement.
"Technology is now allowing us to understand what determines successful capture and evasion under natural conditions. It is under these conditions in which the predator and prey evolve. It's therefore absolutely critical to observe animals in their natural habitat before making too many conclusions from laboratory studies alone," Higham said.
The findings were published online today (Jan. 13) in the journal Scientific Reports.
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Original article on Live Science.