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Researchers quantify viper strike with high-speed video

By Ryan Maass

RIVERSIDE, Calif., Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A research team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside quantified a rattlesnake's strike using high-speed video.

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, the authors say they have obtained an updated understanding of how predators and their prey co-evolve. The team used a high-speed, 3D video to record Mohave rattlesnakes attempting to capture kangaroo rats. The footage was recorded at 500 frames-per-second.

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The study marks the first time researchers have used high-speed video to quantify viper strikes in the wild.

"We obtained some incredible footage of Mohave rattlesnakes striking in the middle of the night, under infrared lighting, in New Mexico during the summer of 2015," study author Timothy Higham explained in a press release. "The results are quite interesting in that strikes are very rapid and highly variable. The snakes also appear to miss quite dramatically -- either because the snake simply misses or the kangaroo rat moves out of the way in time."

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Higham went on to add the strikes observed exceed the defensive strike speeds observed in lab settings.

In addition to quantifying viper strikes, the authors say their research also suggests kangaroo rats amplify their own defensive abilities with the help of elastic energy storage.

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"Elastic energy storage is when the muscle stretches a tendon and then relaxes, allowing the tendon to recoil like an elastic band being released from the stretched position," Higham continued. "It's equivalent to a sling shot -- you can pull the sling shot slowly and it can be released very quickly."

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Researchers collected the data by implanting transmitters in snakes for radio tracking. The team moved their film equipment to a location when a rattlesnake was in striking position. They intend to continue their work with other species of rattlesnake and kangaroo rat to examine potential differences.

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