Friends help make life more fun and less stressful. They play games with us. They can help make us feel better when we are sad. When we have problems that are hard to solve, friends can help us find solutions.
Sometimes rattlesnakes like the company of friends too. Having a snake buddy around helps reduce stress in rattlesnakes, according to an experiment done by Chelsea Martin, a Ph.D. student at Loma Linda University.
When humans are in a stressful situation, having a friend or companion with us helps us cope. The stress reduction caused by friendship is called social buffering.
Chelsea Martin examined how social buffering affected 25 wild Southern Pacific rattlesnakes, also known as black diamond rattlesnakes. She looked at the snakes in three different scenarios: when the snakes were alone, in the presence of another rattlesnake, and in the presence of a rope (a non-living object used for comparison).
Researchers fit a heart rate monitor on one of the rattlesnake test subjects. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Martin.
The researchers used snake heart rate as a measure of rattlesnake stress levels and social buffering. They fitted electrodes near the snakes’ hearts and connected the sensors to a heart rate monitor. They then placed the snakes in a dark and enclosed testing environment: a bucket.
After 20 minutes, the researchers disturbed (bumped) the bucket and measured how the snakes reacted. They measured the increase in heart rate, the time required for the heart rate to return to normal, and how long the snakes rattled.
Rattlesnake with a rope serving as inanimate control object in the study. Photo courtesy of Chelsea Martin.
“We showed that when two snakes were together and experienced a stressful situation, they could buffer each other’s stress response, much like what happens to humans when they endure a stressful event together,” said Chelsea Martin.
Many people find rattlesnakes scary because of the way they are portrayed in movies and books as aggressive. It is true that rattlesnakes can be dangerous to people, but they don’t usually attack unless people actively disturb them, surprise them, or threaten them.
Rattlesnakes do an important job where they live. They control small mammal populations like rodents, and they reduce the transmission of diseases from rodents to humans. We can be better friends to rattlesnakes by leaving them alone to do their work.
Adapted by David Brown for Mongabay Kids. Based on an article by Liz Kimbrough, published on Mongabay.com:
Citation for the scientific paper referenced in this story:
Martin, C. E., Fox, G. A., Putman, B. J., & Hayes, W. K. (2023). Social security: Can rattlesnakes reduce acute stress through social buffering? Frontiers in Ethology, 2, 1181774. doi:10.3389/fetho.2023.1181774