Puffing snake, Phrynonax poecilonotus, and thanatosis


Photos by Bob Thomas, Chiquibul Education Centre, Las Cuevas, Cayo District, Belize, May 2012.

Photo by Bob Thomas, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, May 2002.

Puffing snakes remind us ecologically of a cross between a racer and a rat snake.  They have ontogenetic pattern change (juveniles are gray to brown patterned as the upper three photos, and the adults are olive drab as the lowest photo).  They have squared lateral margins on their ventrals (as does Pantherophis, Pseudelaphe, and Senticolis), an adaptation for climbing up trunks of trees.

The species uses at least four behavioral mechanisms to protect itself from predation:

  • Freezing and relying on camouflaged color and pattern.
  • Thanatosis – in their case remaining still and kinking up the body, presumably emulating a stick (see upper photo; also observed in an adult in Trinidad).
  • Flattening the head by spreading the rear of the mandibles, laterally compressing the body to look bigger, and striking rapidly.
  • In adults, laterally flattening the body and puffing the neck, again to look larger.

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