Skip to comments.This Snake Has a Tail That Looks Like a Spider
Posted on 07/14/2013 12:11:59 AM PDT by nickcarraway
Bryan Fry has been bitten by more venomous snakes than Ive even seen. He studies their toxins for a living. He used to keep loads of them at his mountainside home, when his university ran out of space. Man knows his snakes. So, when Bryan Fry tells me that something is easily the coolest snake ever, I pay attention.
The creature hes talking is new to science, having only been described in 2006. Its the spider-tailed viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides) and it is aptly named.
The tail is bizarre. If you saw a close-up photo of it, youd struggle to believe that there was a snake at the other end. Theres a large orange or grey bulb at the tip, and the scales just before that are bizarrely long and thin. Together, these features look a bit like the legs and abdomen of a spider or their close relatives, the solpugids or camel spiders.
The resemblance is even more striking when the snake moves. It keeps the rest of the tail still, while moving the tip in a disconcertingly jerky way. When studying animal behaviour, its important to remember that were watching with human eyes and to avoid biased interpretations. That said, just look at the video below!
The first spider-tailed viper was collected in the deserts of western Iran in 1968, and made its way to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Steven Anderson first inspected it in 1970 and at first, he thought there was a small camel spider clinging onto the animal. On closer inspection, he realised that the spider was actually part of the tail.
Was it a tumour, a growth caused by some parasite, a genetic deformity, or a natural part of the animal? With just one specimen, it was impossible to say. Thus, the specimen languished, but was not forgotten, for nearly four decades, wrote Andersons team.
Then in 2003, Iranian scientist Hamid Bostanchi found a second viper with exactly the same tail. Thats no tumour. Its what the animal actually looks like. Another Iranian scientist Behzad Fathinia confirmed this by catching a live spider-tailed viper in 2008.
The vipers scales are so rough and ridged that it looks like its encrusted with rock. That provides it with perfect camouflage among the rough gypsum sediments of its desert home. Local people, who knew about it long before scientists came on the scene, call it Mar-e-pardar (feathered snake) or Mar-e-gatch (gypsum snake). The vipers texture gets even rougher when its alarmed. It hisses and inflates its body, which separates the rough scales and makes them stand out from each other. The effect is electricthe snake appears to bristle.
Spider_tailed_viper3 Credit: Barbod Safaei Mahroo And then theres the tail. Its probably a lure, like a fishermans fly. By resembling a tasty morsel, it draws potential prey into the snakes striking range. Fathinia tested this idea by putting a chick into the same enclosure as his captive viper, which duly undulated its tail.
It was very attractive and looked exactly like a spider moving rapidly, Fathinia wrote. After approximately half an hour, the chick went toward the tail and pecked the knob-like structure. The viper pulled the tail structure toward itself, struck and bit the chick in less than 0.5 seconds. The chick died after 1 hour. A sparrow met the same fate.
Many snakes use similar caudal lures like this, including death adders (see below), some boas, and many vipers. But usually, these lures are nothing fancier than a thin tail tip that wriggles like a worm. If thats good enough to attract a lizard or frog, why has the spider-tailed viper evolved a tail thats so much more elaborate?
Maybe its meant to lure a different type of prey, but what? We definitely know that the viper eats birds, since the first specimen had a bird inside its stomach and the live one had feathers in its faeces. But beyond that, the function and the origin of the spider-tailed vipers spider tail is still a mystery.
I’m tired and read “snail”. Good night, and Happy Skittles.
Snakes are infinitely fascinating creatures.
the development of the spider tail is still a mystery???
it is to lure prey that feed on spiders...
i hear it is on the endangered species list, because there are so few around... /sarc
Let’s name it the Marco Rubio for the behavior of trying to lure in the unwary conservative until the liberals strike.
They’re all so cool IMO.
I think I just went to an alternate universe.
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