It is very little is known about the strike performance of rattlesnakes under natural conditions. In similar studies, scientists will observe the snake strikes in controlled laboratory settings with high-speed cameras. Nowadays technological advances in portable high-speed cameras have made it possible for biologists to capture video in the field of animal’s natural environment, where it is a whole different game.
Vipers are to have the fast strike more than 270 m/s squared or around 0 to 100 km/h in just 0.10 seconds. Predator-prey interactions are naturally variable, more than ever observed in a controlled laboratory setting. It is critical to observe animals in their natural habitat before making conclusions from laboratory studies what defines successful capture and evasion.
Scientists ventured out into the New Mexico desert with infrared video cameras to film radio-tracked Mohave rattlesnakes, striking at Merriam’s kangaroo rats. Captured in high-speed video of 500 fps, the researchers found viper strikes in natural habitats to be highly variable.
The strikes occurred at maximum acceleration observed far exceeded those seen in lab settings, at more than 500 meters per second squared. Success was also varied, with the team recording four hits and four misses. This two misses were based on the snake’s inaccuracy and two due to elastic energy storage. It 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. The kangaroo rat is likely using the tendons in its lower leg, to store energy and release it quickly, allowing it to jump quickly and evade the strike.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports. You can check out the viper strike and a narrow escape below.