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Keywords:

  • defensive behaviour;
  • biomechanics;
  • functional morphology;
  • Colubridae;
  • Heterodon;
  • Dasypeltis;
  • head triangulation

Abstract

Head triangulation is a regular component of the defensive behaviour of both Heterodon and Dasypeltis. In Heterodon platyrhinos, the triangulation is achieved primarily through rotation of the quadrate in the transverse plane with the distal end of the quadrate moving dorsad. The quadrate is pulled by the m. cervicomandibularis acting in conjunction with one of the jaw adductors. Head triangulation in Dasypeltis scabra is produced by rotation of the quadrate mainly in the frontal plane with the distal end of the quadrate moving craniad. Experimental analysis documents that contraction of the m. adductor mandibulae externus superficialis is temporally linked to this displacement of the quadrate. The presence of two different mechanical bases for head triangulation in these distantly related colubrids suggests that this behavioural display has evolved independently in these ophidian lineages.