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Social security: can rattlesnakes reduce stress through social buffering?


Martin, Chelsea

cemartin@students.llu.edu


Gerad, Fox

Department of Earth and Biological Sciences

Loma Linda University

Loma Linda, California USA


Putman, Breanna

Department of Biology

California State University at San Bernardino

San Bernardino, California USA


Hayes, William K.

Department of Earth and Biological Sciences

Loma Linda University

Loma Linda, California USA


Social buffering comprises the reduction of stress an organism experiences when in the presence of a companion and has been well documented in highly social animals such as birds and mammals; however, it has not been reported in reptiles. Furthermore, most previous work has been conducted on laboratory-bred animals, so we lack knowledge on attributes of social buffering in nature. Rattlesnakes are cryptically social, exhibiting kin recognition and forming subtle social networks in certain contexts. We tested the presence of social buffering against acute stress in 25 wild-caught adult southern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus helleri) by measuring heart rate increase during a standardized disturbance when alone, in the presence of a rope (inanimate object control), and in the presence of a same-sex companion. Results indicated that the presence of a companion significantly reduced emotional tachycardia after disturbance compared to the other treatments. Reduction in rattling also approached significance. Further study is underway to examine social buffering in the context of companion familiarity and chronic stress. These novel studies can fill the gap in our understanding of social buffering, including its evolution, adaptive roles, and practical applications.