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Data from: Behavioral plasticity and the origins of novelty: the evolution of the rattlesnake rattle

Citation

Allf, Bradley C.; Durst, Paul A. P.; Pfennig, David W. (2016), Data from: Behavioral plasticity and the origins of novelty: the evolution of the rattlesnake rattle, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.c36k6

Abstract

Environmentally induced behavior (behavioral plasticity) has long been hypothesized to promote the origins of novel morphological traits, but this idea remains controversial. One context in which this hypothesis can be evaluated is animal communication, where behavior and morphology are often linked. Here, we examined the evolution of one of nature’s most spectacular communication signals: the rattlesnake rattle. We specifically evaluated whether rattlesnake rattling behavior—and, hence, the rattle—originated from a simple behavior: vibrating the tail when threatened. By reconstructing the ancestral state of defensive tail vibration, we show that this behavior is nearly ubiquitous in the Viperidae (the family that includes rattlesnakes) and widespread in the Colubridae (the largest snake family, nearly all of which are nonvenomous), suggesting a shared origin for the behavior between these families. After measuring tail vibration in 56 species of Viperidae and Colubridae, we show that the more closely related a species was to rattlesnakes, the more similar it was to rattlesnakes in duration and rate of tail vibration. Thus, the rattlesnake rattle might have evolved via elaboration of a simple behavior. These data thereby support the long-standing hypothesis that behavioral plasticity often precedes—and possibly instigates—the evolution of morphological novelty.

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