These snakes deserve an Oscar – they have the most believable staging of death

Feigning death is not something surprising in the animal kingdom. Surely you have ever observed how beetles or, for example, cockroaches pretend to be dead. However, there are creatures that do this so believably that their death is beyond doubt. To look more believable, they use all sorts of special effects – they bleed from their mouths, defecate and smear themselves with feces, take appropriate poses, etc. We are talking about water snakes, or chess snakes (Natrix tessellata). According to many scientists, they have the most realistic simulation of death among all living creatures.

These snakes deserve an Oscar - they have the most believable staging of death. Water snakes are the most believable at pretending to be dead. Photo source: Photo.

Water snakes are the most likely to pretend to be dead. Photo source:

Imitation of death in the animal world

Imitation of death, which is also called tonic immobility, as mentioned above, is often found in nature. Creatures that use this technique are called taxa. A number of studies have shown that for many animals, simulating death is the last attempt to escape from a predator when it is impossible to avoid contact with it. As you know, predators usually avoid carrion.

Various animals, such as opossums, pillbugs, haymakers, etc., use this strategy to save their lives. Ants sometimes pretend to be dead in entire colonies to deceive predators. And this strategy really works, especially in the case of snakes.

Feigning death in the animal kingdom. The hog-nosed snake is known for its ability to feign death. Photo source: Photo.

The hog-nosed snake is known for its ability to play dead. Photo source:

It must be said that not only water snakes have learned to plausibly imitate death. For example, hog-nosed snakes, or hook-nosed snakes, when they imitate death, turn over on their backs, begin to convulse, and at the same time secrete musk. The latter is a foul-smelling substance similar to that produced in the anal glands of skunks. As a result, the snake begins to smell unpleasant.

Ordinary snakes, which are often found near water bodies in central Russia, also know how to pretend to be dead. As we told earlier in the article about snakes that can be found in our country, snakes first throw their heads out in front and hiss. But since they do not have poison, in case of approaching danger they do not attack, but pretend to be dead – they freeze and relax their whole body.

Imitation of death in the animal world. An ordinary snake can also pretend to be dead. Photo source: Photo.

An ordinary person can also pretend to be dead. Photo source:

How water snakes imitate death

Water snakes went even further. These snakes belong to the genus of true snakes of the Colubridae family. They are often found in southern and western Europe, the Middle East, central Asia, western China and northern Africa. Chess snakes, like many other snakes, always settle near bodies of water. The habitat is due to the fact that they hunt fish and amphibians. Like regular snakes, these snakes are not poisonous.

Water snakes can be recognized by their dark spots located in a checkerboard pattern. Hence their name – chess snakes. The body color can be different: olive, olive-gray, olive-green, olive-brown, brownish or even reddish-orange.

Like water snakes, they use musk and feces to simulate death. Scientists have also noticed that while pretending to be dead, snakes open their mouths wide, from which blood flows. This ability is called self-hemorrhage. But it is not at all surprising that they had to develop such an ability, since water snakes are a delicacy for many predators – birds, a number of mammals and reptiles.

How water snakes imitate death. The water snake has characteristic spots arranged in a checkerboard pattern: Photo source: Photo.

The water snake has characteristic spots located in a checkerboard pattern: Photo source:

Not all water snakes are of good quality imitate death

To better study the ability of water snakes to feign death, scientists went to the island of Golem Grad in Macedonia, where they sneaked up on the snakes and scared them by grabbing them by the body. In total, they frightened more than 250 water snakes. As reported in the study, half of the snakes simply defecated out of fear. The rest pretended to be dead. But only 28 individuals that simulated death experienced autohemorrhage. Researchers report this in the journal Biology Letters.

Interestingly, the snakes that bled from their mouths “came to their senses” two seconds earlier than the others. According to scientists, this is due to the fact that those individuals who pretend to be dead better have an advantage. Obviously, upon seeing such a snake, the predator immediately turns around and leaves. Therefore, such snakes can retreat from a dangerous place earlier. Obviously, they were forced to learn this ability by predators who did not really believe in the usual freezing.

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In future studies, scientists want to gain more information about this ability of snakes. In particular, they will pay more attention to the sequence of behavior of water snakes when simulating death.