Technology aided natural history: insights on snake behavior from field videos

Farrell, Terence M.

Biology Department

Stetson University

DeLand, FL

Technology often provides tools for gaining natural history knowledge. The use of inexpensive video recorders (camcorders) offers an accessible path to increase understanding of snake behavioral ecology. I will show a series of videos recorded in central Florida focused on pygmy rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and natricine snakes. These videos indicate that snakes are often multitaskers and are not restricted to focusing on a single or goal activity at any one time. The latter is a common assumption of snake behavior, especially in the context of reproduction. I argue that snakes engage in a wide variety of social behaviors in addition to those associated with mating, such as intraspecific and interspecific kleptoparasitism. There are many benefits to using unattended video cameras including lessening the impact of an observer on the behavior of snakes and their predators and prey. The videos also preserve brief interactions and behaviors that may be misinterpreted if viewed only once. For the general public, viewing videos of snakes engaging in a diversity of non-defensive behaviors (including drinking, ecdysis, courtship, and interacting with offspring and siblings) reduces antipathy toward snakes. Most importantly, the curiosity-driven video observations provide highly memorable material that provides a great path for hypothesis generation and for future investigations of behaviors in more controlled environments.