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Defensive behaviour in pit vipers of the genus Bothrops (Serpentes, Viperidae)

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The genus Bothrops encompasses at least six evolutionary lineages that show a great diversification in macro and microhabitat use. We studied the defensive behaviour of one species of each of five lineages within the genus Bothrops : B. alternatus, B. jararaca, B. jararacussu, B. moojeni and B. pauloensis. Specifically, we investigated if this diversification in habitat use was accompanied by a similar divergence in the characters related to defensive behaviour in the genus. Eight behavioural categories were recorded, five of which may be classified as "threatening" (strike, tail vibration, head and neck elevation, dorsoventral body compression and body thrashing); two as "escape" (locomotor escape and cocking); and one as "cryptic" (head hiding). We observed significant differences in four behavioural categories. We also detected a significant difference in the way species elevated their head and neck. Tail vibration and strikes were the most common behaviours presented, and snakes that displayed their tails struck more frequently than those that did not display. A reconstruction of characters related to defensive behaviour on a phylogeny of Bothrops indicated an increase in the use of dorsoventral body compression in the groups alternatus and neuwiedi, which may be associated with the invasion of open areas by these lineages.
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Keywords: COMPARATIVE METHOD; CROTALINAE; DEFENSIVE TACTICS; EVOLUTION OF BEHAVIOUR

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 July 2006

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