Rattlesnakes trap raindrops in the scales to water themselves

It has been observed that rattlesnakes can drink raindrops running down the scales on their back. This can be very useful especially in those drought phases during which you need to take advantage of even the shortest thunderstorms to drink as much as possible, a behavior that helps these snakes to survive in desert environments with very rare rains.

In order to understand how the serpents are able to hold the water among the scales of their body for longer, a team of researchers has realized a study whose results have then appeared on ACS Omega.

The researchers specifically analyzed this behavior in the Crotalus atrox rattlesnake, which can be found mainly in the southwestern areas of the United States and northern areas of Mexico. This serpent, when it rains, comes out from its den and literally collects the rain, but also the sleet or even the snow, trapping it between the scales of its own body. For doing so, it flattens the body itself, in order to maximize the area of the collection, so that the raindrops flow on its back. In this way the snake is then able to suck the water from the scales.

The researchers have analyzed at the nanoscopic level the scales of this serpent comparing them with those of two other species of serpents which do not show this behavior but which live in desert environments too, that is, the serpents of the genus Lampropeltis and that of the subspecies Pituophis affinis catenifer. The researchers have dropped drops of water on the back of these serpents. In the Crotalus atrox, these droplets tended to unite and stick to the scales forming small “puddles” which did not happen on the skin of the other two serpents.

Using scanning electron microscopy, the researchers took a closer look at the scales of Crotalus atrox and discovered nano-channels that form a sort of labyrinth and which also help to collect water through a sticky, hydrophobic surface on which the water itself almost seems to stick.