Seasonal biotic and abiotic factors affecting hunting strategy in free-living Saharan sand vipers, Cerastes vipera

Sefi J.A. Horesh, Jaim Sivan, Avi Rosenstrauch, Itay Tesler, A. Allan Degen, Michael Kam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Sit-and-wait ambushing and active hunting are two strategies used by predators to capture prey. In snakes, hunting strategy is conserved phylogenetically; most species employ only one strategy. Active hunters encounter and capture more prey but invest more energy in hunting and have higher risks of being predated. This trade-off is important to small predators. The small Cerastes vipera employs both modes of hunting, which is unlike most viperids which use only sit-and wait ambushing. This species hibernates in October and emerges in April. Energy intake should be high prior to hibernation to overcome the non-feeding hibernation period and for reproduction on their emergence. We predicted that more individuals would hunt actively towards hibernation and an abiotic factor would trigger this response. Furthermore, since more energy is required for active hunting, we predicted that snakes in good body condition would use active hunting to a greater extent than snakes in poor body condition. To test our predictions, we tracked free-living snakes year round and determined their hunting strategy, estimated their body condition index (BCI), and calculated circannual parameters of day length as environmental cues known to affect animal behaviour. Two novel findings emerged in this study, namely, hunting strategy was affected significantly by 1) the circannual change in day length and 2) by BCI. The proportion of active hunters increased from 5% in April to over 30% in October and BCI of active foragers was higher than that of sit-and-wait foragers and, therefore, our predictions were supported. The entrainment between the proportion of active hunting and the abiotic factor is indicative of an adaptive function for choosing a hunting strategy. A trend was evident among life stages. When all life stages were present (September–October), the proportion of active foragers increased with age: 0.0% among neonates, 18.2% among juveniles and 31.4% among adults. We concluded that vulnerable small neonates used sit-and-wait ambush not only as a hunting strategy but also as a hiding technique.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-44
Number of pages5
JournalBehavioural Processes
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Active hunting
  • Adaptive function
  • Body condition index
  • Chronobiology
  • Hunting strategy
  • Sit-and-wait ambush
  • Zeitgebers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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