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Comparative experimental tests of natricine antipredator displays, with special reference to the apparently unique displays in the Asian genus, Rhabdophis

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Nuchal glands are unique organs known in only twelve Old World natricine species (three genera) including Rhabdophis tigrinus tigrinus. The glands of R. t. tigrinus contain a toxic secretion that may be derived from its toxic toad diet. A series of peculiar antipredator behaviors, for example neck arch, neck butt, and dorsal-facing posture, are exhibited by R. t. tigrinus, and a functional association between this behavior and the nuchal glands has been suggested. To investigate the ubiquitousness of these putatively unique displays among snakes, antipredator responses of 27 taxa of natricine snakes, both with and without nuchal glands, were studied using a common testing procedure. Three of four taxa with nuchal glands exhibited neck arch, neck butt, and dorsal-facing posture. None of the remaining 23 taxa, which do not possess the glands, showed neck arch and neck butt. Principal-components analysis indicated the association of the above three displays along with the behaviors termed neck flatten and head elevation, confirming the presence of a series of nuchal gland-related behaviors. These results support the assumption that the suite of peculiar displays is associated with the deterrent effects of the nuchal gland secretion.

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We would like to thank P. Andreadis, S.-L. Chen, D. Cunningham, N. Ford, T. Hikida, T. Hirai, M. Honda, G. Martin, H. Ota, R. Patankar, S. Ryabov, T. Sugawara, M. Toda, and M. Waters for their kind help in obtaining snakes or providing facilities for testing. We also thank M. Toriba, J. Placyk, L. Almli, and R. Mehta for their comments on the manuscript and H. Ota for bibliographic assistance. Snakes were handled under Guidelines for Animal Experiments of Kyoto University and Protocol L202 of the University of Tennessee. The research was partially supported by a grant from the Japan–US Cooperative Science Program (1996–1998: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) awarded to AM and the National Science Foundation, INT-9513100 awarded to GMB). Data analysis and manuscript preparation were partially supported by a grant for the Joint Project for the Japan–US. Cooperative Science Program from JSPS (2004–2005) and by a grant for the Biodiversity Research of the 21st Century COE (A14).

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Correspondence to Akira Mori.

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Mori, A., Burghardt, G.M. Comparative experimental tests of natricine antipredator displays, with special reference to the apparently unique displays in the Asian genus, Rhabdophis . J Ethol 26, 61–68 (2008).

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