Watch: Decoding rattlesnakes’ insistent signals

A western diamondback rattlesnake is poised to rattle. Credit: Tobias Kohl

The rattlesnake’s shaking rattle can send shivers down the spine of anyone who gets close. But get even closer and the rattling picks up speed. It may be a trick to make it seem like the rattlesnake is closer than it really is, researchers believe. In a study published in Current Biology, Boris Chagnaud, a biologist at the University of Graz in Austria, devised a series of tests to study Western diamondback rattlesnakes’ (Crotalus atrox) changing rattles. Testing college student responses, the researchers found the subjects mistook a faster rattle for a closer rattlesnake. Or, Chagnaud said, faster rattling could be a way to get the listener’s attention.

Read more in the New York Times, and watch a video on their study below.