plants and animals

Hognose snake’s dramatic fake death (video)



Editor and Artist
Playing dead is a common defense behavior in several animal species. When threatened, some animals will stay still to avoid predation.

In nature, this seemingly counter-intuitive strategy works because predators tend to prefer live prey. Animals that are already dead may cause predators to become more cautious of potential disease, especially when the trick is added with foul-smelling odor.

Hognose snake, although venomous, has amphibian-specific venom which may not be suitable to endanger its predators. Instead, it hisses, secretes ooze, and drops dead when threatened. This particular snake in the video shows an unusually theatrical display by “dancing” around before it finally stops moving, although the final act where it refuses to be flipped back is a normal behavior for hognoses.

Thanatosis, the form of fake death shown by the snake, is also used by sleeper cichlids of Lake Malawi. Instead of avoiding predators, the fish lies down on its side and strikes prey animals that closes in carelessly.

Tonic immobility is another form of playing dead where an animal becomes temporarily paralyzed and unresponsive to stimuli. This act can be seen in many species ranging from ants, frogs, birds, and even sharks. In rabbits, this mechanism can be observed when the animal is flipped upside down, often seen in viral pictures and videos on the internet. However, tonic immobility is considered a last resort mechanism for the defenseless prey animal and is only performed when the animal is stressed out, and thus should not be used as a method to bond with pet rabbits.