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Rattlesnakes actually trick your ears so you don’t kill them

You may not be as close to the rattlesnake as you think you are

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A visitor touches the scales of a rattlesnake at the Texas Capitol.

A visitor touches the scales of a rattlesnake at the Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. Rattlesnakes have a trick to confuse humans — they increase their rattling rate whenever a threat appears, which may make it harder to figure out where they’re hiding, researchers recently suggested in a new study.

Eric Gay, Associated Press

Rattlesnakes have a trick to confuse humans — they increase their rattling rate whenever a threat appears, which may make it harder to figure out where they’re hiding, researchers recently suggested in a new study.

The increase will then extend the frequency, which makes listeners — like humans — think the snakes are closer than they really are.

  • The study — published in the medical journal Current Biology — said this allows the snakes to create a large safety net for itself when a threat appears.

The study’s senior author, Boris Chagnaud, at Karl-Franzens-University Graz, said the findings are a breakthrough to understand communication among rattlesnakes, according to SciTechDaily.

  • “Our data show that the acoustic display of rattlesnakes, which has been interpreted for decades as a simple acoustic warning signal about the presence of the snake, is in fact a far more intricate interspecies communication signal,” Changnaud said. “The sudden switch to the high-frequency mode acts as a smart signal fooling the listener about its actual distance to the sound source. The misinterpretation of distance by the listener thereby creates a distance safety margin.”

Chagnaud said he noticed rattlesnakes would increase their rattling rate whenever he walked by them at an animal facility. His team then went to work to see if this was true. They found that the rattling rate jumped when snakes looked at a human-like object.

  • “In real life, rattlesnakes make use of additional vibrational and infrared signals to detect approaching mammals, so we would expect the rattling responses to be even more robust,” Chagnaud said, according to Science Focus.