Altered visual experience and acute visual deprivation affect predatory targeting by infrared-imaging Boid snakes

Brain Res. 2001 Nov 23;919(2):250-8. doi: 10.1016/s0169-328x(01)00248-0.


Boid and Crotaline snakes use both their eyes and infrared-imaging facial pit organs to target homeothermic prey. These snakes can target in complete darkness, but the eyes can also effectively direct predatory strikes. We investigated the behavioral correlates of boid snakes' simultaneous use of two imaging systems by testing whether congenital unilateral visual deprivation affects targeting performance. Normally sighted Burmese pythons exhibited average targeting angle of zero (on the midline axis of the head), but three unilaterally anophthalmic Burmese pythons targeted preferentially on the sighted side. A unilaterally anophthalmic amethystine python also targeted on the sighted side, and a unilaterally anophthalmic Brazilian rainbow boa tended to target on the sighted side, though its mean targeting angle was not significantly different from zero. When unilaterally anophthalmic Burmese pythons were temporarily blinded, mean strike angle changed to that of normally sighted snakes. These results show that while infrared-imaging snakes can shift between visual and infrared information under acute experimental conditions, loss of part of the visual field during development results in abnormal predatory targeting behavior. In contrast, normally sighted snakes subjected to temporary unilateral blinding do not target preferentially on the sighted side. Therefore, while loss of part of the visual field may be compensated for by infrared input in normal snakes, partial absence of visual input during development may alter central organization of visual information. Conversely, absence of half the visual field during development does not alter targeting performance based upon infrared input alone, suggesting that organization of the central infrared map does not depend upon normal organization of visual input.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anophthalmos / physiopathology
  • Blindness / physiopathology*
  • Boidae / anatomy & histology
  • Boidae / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Infrared Rays*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Sensory Deprivation / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Thermosensing / physiology*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*