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Journal Article

The Burrowing of the Western Shovel-Nosed Snake, Chionactis occipitalis Hallowell, and the Undersand Environment

Kenneth S. Norris and J. Lee Kavanau
Copeia
Vol. 1966, No. 4 (Dec. 23, 1966), pp. 650-664
DOI: 10.2307/1441397
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1441397
Page Count: 15

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Topics: Sand, Snakes, Burrowing, Soils, Animals, Deserts, Pressure, Locomotion, Reptiles, Respiration
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Burrowing of the Western Shovel-Nosed Snake, Chionactis occipitalis Hallowell, and the Undersand Environment
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Abstract

The western shovel-nosed snake, Chionactis occipitalis, often emerges at night in a more or less synchronous fashion over fairly extensive areas of desert. Experimental studies of this phenomenon indicate that emergence is regulated by a circadian rhythm which probably acts in concert with near-surface sand temperatures. The earth pressure relations of aeolian sand were studied with a buried pressure cell. The downward pressure of shallow uncompacted aeolian sand upon a buried snake is roughly the same as that of a fluid of equal density, but lateral pressures are much lower. Pressure exerted on the snake's ventral surface results from the dorsal pressure. There are several implications of this regime for subsand locomotion and respiration. The maximum period of submergence beneath dry sand seems to be roughly temperature-dependent, being shorter at high temperatures, while basal metabolic rate seems to be somewhat depressed by a sand overburden. Buried shovel-nosed snakes were found to breathe by rapid gular fluttering movements. During active burrowing the downward-bent head and the overhanging rostral scale produce a sand-free cavity used for expiration and inspiration. Chionactis feeds on scorpions in such a way as to avoid the stinger and claws of the prey. Skin shedding occurs beneath the surface, but defecation above.

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