Coachwhip snake controls its blood to enhance vision

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

coachwhip snake
A baby Western coachwhip.

Regular people have been known to accomplish superhuman tasks in times of danger, just like the lady who managed to lift a fallen car off of her father. Well, humans aren’t the only creatures who can enhance their abilities. According to Kevin van Doorn from the University of Waterloo, the coachwhip snake can enhance its vision under threat.

This is pretty remarkable, given that snakes are famous for having bad eyesight. Their eyeballs are covered in a transparent scale often referred to as the “reptilian spectacle,” which moisturizes, shields, and protects the eyes. Researcher van Doorn was studying the eyes of a coachwhip snake when he noticed the thin film was filled with blood vessels. He also realized that they’d regularly switch from a constricted (tightened) state to a dilated (expanded) one, depending on whether the slithering creature was awake or asleep. That way, the blood didn’t block the reptile’s already poor vision.

What’s interesting is that when the scaly creature feels like it’s in danger, the blood vessels will constrict for several minutes at a time. The lack of blood ensures the snake has the best possible vision in dangerous situations. “This work shows that the blood flow pattern in the snake spectacle is not static but rather dynamic,” said van Doorn.

This research shows just how complex a creature’s interactions can be with its surrounding environment. “This research is the perfect example of how a [lucky] discovery can redefine our understanding of the world around us,” said van Doorn. More studies will be conducted in order to understand the relationship further.

Featured image courtesy of Kevin van Doorn. Image of baby coachwhip snake courtesy of Dawson on Wikipedia.