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Common, but probably not mimicry...


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Posted by chris_harper2 on March 28, 2003 at 08:33:01:

In Reply to: Rattlesnake imitation?? posted by ToddMac on March 28, 2003 at 01:08:21:

I think the "best" of the many snakes that do this is either the W. or E. Fox snakes. I've kept a lot of rattlesnakes and can tell you that a fox snake rattling it's tail against some dry grass is convincing.

I've even seen Tree Vipers (Trimeresurus) do this

However, it's not thought to be mimicry or imitation per se. Many species that rattle their tails live nowhere near rattlesnakes nor are they around migratory "predators" that spend part of the year within the range of rattlesnakes and then part of their year within the range of some of the exotic species.

So modern thought is that many species of snakes rattle their tails as a sort of warning system, but rattlesnakes just do it better than the others.

But there is a caveat. This may be considered something of a chicken or an egg question (although I hate that analogy) because other snakes were likely rattling their tails before rattlesnakes appeared. However, it could be that snakes that do live within the range of rattlesnakes rattle their tails in a different way to be more similar to the rattlesnakes.

So in other words its not true mimicry in that the snakes did not start rattling their tails because of the rattlesnakes, but populations near rattlesnakes or who are exposed to the same migratory predators might evolve to rattle their tails in a manner more similar to rattlesnakes.

The concept of mimicry has changed in the last 20 years and make for very interesting discussion in the primary literature. Even the tri-color/coral snake mimicry paradigm is treated with much skepticism nowadays.


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