Avian deception using an elaborate caudal lure in Pseudocerastes urarachnoides (Serpentes: Viperidae)

in Amphibia-Reptilia
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Pseudocerastes urarachnoides is a fascinating viper and as yet has been reported only in western Iran. An elaborated arachnid-like caudal structure is a unique feature of this viper, hence gives it the common name “Iranian spider-tailed viper”. During tail wagging, the structure is reminiscent of a moving spider. Tail movements are used for two different purposes in snakes: defense via tail vibration and hunting via both caudal luring and caudal distraction. Caudal luring in snakes is the wriggling or wagging of the posterior part of tail, in the presence of a potential prey, with conspicuous color pattern while the rest of body is cryptically colored. Previous studies have speculated on the role of caudal structure of P. urarachnoides in hunting. Our 2.5-year study has revealed that development of the structure of the caudal lure is commenced after birth and is linearly correlated to snout-vent length. The caudal lure attracts some species of birds. Caudal luring behavior is carried out both in the presence and absence of birds. The findings are reported for the first time and confirmed by direct observation of undisturbed individuals in the field.

Avian deception using an elaborate caudal lure in Pseudocerastes urarachnoides (Serpentes: Viperidae)

in Amphibia-Reptilia



  • AllenE.R. (1949): Observations of the feeding habits of the juvenile cantil. Copeia 1949: 225-226.

  • AndradeD.V.MarquesO.A.V.GaviraR.S.B.BarboF.E.ZacariottiR.L.SazimaI. (2010): Tail luring by the golden lancehead (Bothrops insularis), an island endemic snake from south-eastern Brazil. South Amer. J. Herpetol. 5: 175-180.

  • ArnoldE.N. (1994): Caudal autotomy as a defense. In: Biology of the Reptilia Vol. 16. Defense and Life History p.  235-274. GansC.HueyR.B. Eds Branta BooksAnn Arbor, MI.

  • BostanchiH.AndersonS.C.KamiH.G.PapenfussT.J. (2006): A new species of Pseudocerastes with elaborate tail ornamentation from western Iran (Squamata: Viperidae). Proc. Calif. Acad. Sci. 57: 443-450.

  • CarpenterC.C. (1977): Communication and displays of snakes. Amer. Zool. 17: 217-223.

  • CarpenterC.C.GillinghamJ.C. (1990): Ritualized behavior in Agkistrodon and related genera. In: Snakes of the Agkistrodon Complex: A Monographic Review p.  523-532. GloydH.K.ConantR. Eds SSAROxford, OH.

  • CarpenterC.C.MurphyJ.B.CarpenterG.C. (1978): Tail luring in the death adder, Acanthophis antarcticus (Reptilia, Serpentes, Elapidae). J. Herpetol. 12: 574-577.

  • ChiszarD.BoyerD.LeeR.MurphyJ.B.RadcliffeC.W. (1990): Caudal luring in the southern death adder, Acanthophis antarcticus. J. Herpetol. 24: 253-260.

  • DaltryJ.C.WusterW.ThorpeR.S. (1998): Intraspecific variation in the feeding ecology of the crotaline snake Calloselasma rhodostoma in Southeast Asia. J. Herpetol. 32: 198-205.

  • DisiA.M. (2002): Herpetofauna of Jordan. UNEPAmman.

  • FarrellT.M.MayP.G.AndreadisP.T. (2011): Experimental manipulation of tail color does not affect foraging success in a caudal luring rattlesnake. J. Herpetol. 45: 291-293.

  • FathiniaB.AndersonS.C.Rastegar-PouyaniN.JahaniH.MohamadiH. (2009): Notes on the natural history of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides. Russ. J. Herpetol. 16: 134-138.

  • FathiniaB.Rastegar-PouyaniN.Rastegar-PouyanE.Toodeh-DehghanF.RajabizadehM. (2014): Molecular systematics of the genus Pseudocerastes (Ophidia: Viperidae) based on mitochondrial cytochrome b gene. Turk. J. Zool. 38: 575-581.

  • FosterC.D.MartinP. (2008): Caudal movements in western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) prior to attempted prey capture. Western North American Naturalist 68: 257-259.

  • FreitasM.A.SilvaT.F.S. (2011): Bothrops leucurus (Bahia lancehead). Caudal luring. Herpetol. Rev. 42: 436.

  • GreeneH.W.CampbellJ.A. (1972): Notes on the use of caudal lures by arboreal green pit vipers. Herpetologica 28: 32-34.

  • HeatwoleH.DavisonE. (1976): A review of caudal luring in snakes with notes on its occurrence in the Saharan sand viper, Cerastes vipera. Herpetologica 32: 332-336.

  • HendersonR.W. (1970): Caudal luring in a juvenile Russell’s viper. Herpetologica 26: 276-277.

  • JacksonJ.F.MartinD.L. (1980): Caudal luring in the dusky pigmy rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri. Copeia 1980: 926-927.

  • KauffeldC.F. (1943): Growth and feeding of new-born Price’s and green rock rattlesnakes. Amer. Midl. Nat. 29: 607-614.

  • KhanM.S. (2002): A Guide to the Snakes of Pakistan. Edition ChimairaFrankfurt am Main.

  • LatifiM. (2000): Snakes of Iran. Department of EnvironmentTehran478 pp.

  • LealM.ThomasR. (1994): Notes on the feeding behavior and caudal luring by juvenile Alsophis portoricensis (Serpentes: Colubridae). J. Herpetol. 28: 126-128.

  • MallowD.LudwigD.NilsonG. (2003): True Vipers: Natural History and Toxinology of Old World Vipers. Krieger Publishing CompanyMalabar, FL351 pp.

  • MarquesO.A.V.MartinsM.SazimaI. (2002): A jararaca da Ilha da Queimada Grande. Ciência Hoje 31: 56-59.

  • MarquesO.A.V.MartinsM.DeveleyP.F.MacarrãoA.SazimaI. (2012): The golden lancehead Bothrops insularis (Serpentes: Viperidae) relies on two seasonally plentiful bird species visiting its island habitat. J. Nat. Hist. 46: 885-895.

  • MartinsM.MarquesO.A.V.SazimaI. (2002): Ecological and phylogenetic correlates of feeding habits in neotropical pitvipers of the genus Bothrops. In: Biology of the Vipers p.  307-328. SchuettG.W.HöggrenM.DouglasM.E.GreeneH.W. Eds Eagle Mountain PublishingEagle Mountain, UT.

  • MullinS. (1999): Caudal distraction by rat snakes (Colubridae, Elaphe): a novel behavior used when capturing mammalian prey. Great Basin Nat. 59: 361-367.

  • MurphyJ.B.CarpenterC.C.GillinghamJ.C. (1978): Caudal luring in the green tree python, Chondropython viridis (Reptilia, Serpentes, Boidae). J. Herpetol. 12: 117-119.

  • NeillW.T. (1948): The yellow tail of juvenile copperheads. Herpetologica 4: 161.

  • NeillW.T. (1960): The caudal lure of various juvenile snakes. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Science 23: 173-200.

  • NewtonI. (2008): The Migration Ecology of Birds. Monks Wood Research StationCambridgeshire, UK976 pp.

  • ParelladaX.SantosX. (2002): Caudal luring in free-ranging adult Vipera latasti. Amphibia-Reptilia 23: 343-347.

  • PhelpsT. (2010): Old World Vipers: A Natural History of the Azemiopinae and Viperinae. Edition ChimairaFrankfurt am Main558 pp.

  • RabatskyA.M. (2008): Caudal luring as a precursor in the evolution of the rattle: a test using an ancestral rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri. In: The Biology of Rattlesnakes p.  143-154. HayesW.K.BeamanK.R.CardwellM.D.BushS.P. Eds Loma Linda University PressLoma Linda, CA.

  • RabatskyA.M.FarrellT.M. (1996): The effects of age and light level on foraging posture and frequency of caudal luring in the rattlesnake, Sistrurus miliarius barbouri. J. Herpetol. 30: 558-561.

  • RadcliffeC.W.ChiszarD.SmithH.M. (1980): Prey-induced caudal movements in Boa constrictor with comments on the evolution of caudal luring. Bull. Maryland Herpet. Soc. 16: 19-22.

  • SazimaI. (1991): Caudal luring in two neotropical pitvipers, Bothrops jararaca and B. jararacussu. Copeia 1991: 245-248.

  • SazimaI.PuortoG. (1993): Feeding technique of juvenile Tropidodryas striaticeps: probable caudal luring in a colubrid snake. Copeia 1993: 222-226.

  • SchuettG.W. (1984): Calloselasma rhodostoma (Malayan pit viper). Feeding mimicry. Herpetol. Rev. 15: 112.

  • ShineR.Li-XinS. (2002): Arboreal ambush site selection by pit-vipers Gloydius shedaoensis. Anim. Behav. 63: 565-576.

  • SimonP.WhittakerR.ShineR. (1999): Morelia spilota (Australian carpet python). Caudal luring. Herpetol. Rev. 30: 102-103.

  • TieboutH.M.III (1997): Caudal luring by a temperate colubrid snake, Elaphe obsoleta, and its implications for the evolution of the rattle among rattlesnakes. J. Herpetol. 31: 290-292.

  • WhartonC.H. (1960): Birth and behavior of a brood of cottonmouths, Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus with notes on tail-luring. Herpetologica 16: 125-129.

  • WhitakerR.CaptainA. (2004): Snakes of India: The Field Guide. Draco BooksChennai, India.

  • WüsterW.DuarteM.R.da GraçaS.M. (2005): Morphological correlates of incipient arboreality and ornithophagy in island pitvipers, and the phylogenetic position of Bothrops insularis. J. Zool. 266: 1-10.


  • View in gallery

    Postnatal development of caudal lure in the Iranian spider-tailed viper, Pseudocerastes urarachnoides. SVL of the specimens: a = 198, b = 265, c = 305, d = 320, e = 360, f = 450, g = 500, h = 590, i = 620, j = 690, k = 765 and l = 875 mm. This figure is published in colour in the online version.

  • View in gallery

    A diagram showing the frequency of tail luring in Pseudocerastes urarachnoides in the absence and presence of avian prey. Those five peaks with frequencies higher than 0.3 and black solid asterisks above, indicating caudal luring when avian preys present. This figure is published in colour in the online version.

  • View in gallery

    A complete scene of predation on birds by the Iranian spider-tailed viper, Pseudocerastes urarachnoides. (a) A motionless Iranian spider-tailed viper while caudal luring, (b) attacking the tail by bird, (c-d) fleeing from the vipers fang, (e) returning toward the caudal lure, (f) pecking the tail, (g) striking of this viper, (h) biting and envenoming the prey on the head, (i) fluttering for escape, (j) simultaneously swallowing and pulling in the dead bird. This figure is published in colour in the online version.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 336 336 51
Full Text Views 408 408 1
PDF Downloads 18 18 1
EPUB Downloads 1 1 0