From Snowbird, Utah, at a meeting of the Animal Behavior Society
Several of the Northeast’s least ferocious forest creatures taunt rattlesnakes. In woodland-surveillance videos, scientists have watched chipmunks, gray squirrels, and a thrush lunge at and hop over the vipers.
Harassing of North American snakes had previously been reported along the West Coast (SN: 6/26/04, p. 403: Hot Bother: Ground squirrels taunt in infrared; 10/9/99, p. 237). California ground squirrels can survive snakebites as adults, but the pups can’t. If adults find a snake lurking near a burrow, they snap their tails and rush, nip, and kick sand at it. The harassed snake often leaves the scene.
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Now, Rulon Clark of Cornell University has documented similar snake taunting in East Coast critters. He had set out to study how timber rattlesnakes hunt. It was slow work since a foraging rattler generally sits still for a day or so until something strays into striking range. To collect data efficiently, Clark set up surveillance cameras to monitor the snakes.
Out of 88 snake-hunting bouts caught by his 2,000 hours of video, 6 featured dramatic episodes of harassment: 3 starred a gray squirrel; 2, a chipmunk, and 1, a pair of wood thrushes.
As far as he knows, Clark says, these animals don’t have built-in resistance to snake venom. However, they can move fast and dodge out of harm’s way. And their antics work: A snake treated to such a commotion was four times as likely as an undisturbed snake to abandon its hunting spot, Clark notes.