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The predatory behavior of rattlesnakes includes many distinctive preparatory phases leading to an extremely rapid strike, during which the head is accelerated toward the prey. Fangs, folded during rest, are moved to an anterior position in the mouth as the maxillae on which they ride are erected. Contact is made (frame 2) and jaws close (frame 3) injecting venom into the most vulnerable site in the rodent, the thoracic cavity holding the highly vascular lungs. From here, injected venom is carried rapidly to the body of the rodent quickly killing it and preventing its escape after release (frame 4). Forces generated during acceleration of the head are transferred to posterior body sections to decelerate the head before contact, thereby reducing impact forces upon the snake’s jaws. Recruitment of body segments, launch postures, and kinematic features of the strike may be quite varied from strike to strike, suggesting a complicated neurosensory and motor control. The quick release of the prey during which the rattlesnake throws its head clear of the prey, removes the head from retaliation by the rodent via its sharp incisor teeth. This means that the strike must be accurate and that recovery of the prey over complicated terrain with complex confounding odors must be part of the rattlesnake’s sensory ability.

See: Kardong, K. V. and V. L. Bels. 1998. Rattlesnake strike behavior: kinematics. Journal of Experimental Biology 201: 837-850.

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