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Ghost cobra learns to hunt from the womb

Young snakes move their tails in the same way that adults use their tails as worms to lure prey closer and attack.

Ghost cobra learns to hunt from the womb

The young ghost cobra moves its tail in the womb. Video: Chiricahua Desert Museum

Researchers from the Chiricahua Desert Museum in New Mexico observed ghost cobra embryos moving their tails in a behavior known as “caudal luring”. This is a tactic some snakes use to attract prey. Prey often mistake the snake’s tail movement for a worm or other animal. When the prey approaches the snake, it will rush forward and attack. Not all snakes use this tactic, but the ghost cobra, a member of the viper family, adopts the tactic shortly after birth. However, the findings, published in the journal Open Science by the Royal Society, show that snakes begin to learn hunting tactics even before they are born.

This is the first time the team has observed behavior in the womb in ghost cobras. “Intrauterine movement in humans and other vertebrates is important for musculoskeletal and sensory development. The embryonic behavior we describe in cobras and possibly in including other snake species, is very important, affecting early life survival and later health,” said the study authors.

After casually observing behavior in a pregnant snake, the team digs deeper and used ultrasound to evaluate 18 other pregnant cobras at the end of another pregnancy. During the assessment, they found 11 snake embryos that moved their tails in a “caudal luring” pattern. Using the same method, the researchers tested the behavior in two species of rattlesnakes that didn’t use the “caudal luring” tactic, and neither embryos moved their tails like that.

Because the study was based on a very small sample, the team will need to dig deeper to determine if tail movements occur in species that do not use the “caudal lure” strategy. However, for ghost cobras, this is an essential developmental marker for predatory behavior. While the embryo is still developing, the musculoskeletal and motor systems are ready for important postnatal feeding.

An Khang (According to Newsweek)

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