Why do ball pythons have alien heads? is it a fluke or an evolutionary survival benefit?
There must be an evelororany benefit. Maybe its not a coincidence but to distract predators from the snakes head?. (where would the head be on a balled snake with many alien heads to distract when the actual head is hidden underneath) Just an idea, other reptiles do it with faces on their tails.
Does anyone have a view or even know of any studies?
Thanks to @dj-pythons
kind permission to post their cool alien heads
It is probably just cryptic patterning. It helps them blend into their natural habits. Many other animals also use cryptic patterning to blend in. I doubt other animals in the wild see faces in the alien heads like our brains do. Maybe it is disruptive patterning instead. Either way it is camouflage though. @t_h_wyman @chesterhf is it technically cryptic or disruptive? Or are those basically the same thing? It is hard to nail down the info online.
You make a fair point. I have no doubt it started out as just camouflage, but i wonder if it could not distract predators from the vital head to elsewhere on their bodies, (as other reptiles have evolved to do), and those ball pythons with what looks like eyes or head elsewhere on their bodies survived better and passed on the genetics making the alien heads more obvious?
Many predators go for the head or neck after all.
Edit before the next reply: Yes we see aliens with our brains and culture, but maybe some predators see the head, or just eyes meaning the head to them, the most efficient and safest kill target. ?
The question in this topic Is just an intriguing thought to me, either way.
Thats a very interesting topic. It would be cool to know if the pattern confuses other predators along with camouflage.
I would definitely say that it is for camouflage.
Camouflage definitely makes sense (oldest trick in the book - it’s why snakes like copperheads and gaboons are darn near impossible to spot in their natural habitat) but I didn’t even think about the possibility of a form of mimicry. Generally speaking it must not be a trait that’s consistently selected for, because if it had enough of an evolutionary advantage (like, confusing predators) then likely a good majority of WC animals would very consistently have alien heads, and regionally there seem to be a lot of differences between patterns (I’d say I’ve seen just as many WC animals with reduced pattern as I have with alien heads). But it could be that that is indeed a pattern that makes it easier to confuse predators, and while it may not have enough selective pressure to consistently beat out pythons with reduced pattern alien heads, it could definitely be an added bonus in some regions.
They are a great example of countershading camouflage, where they have a different shades from dorsal to lateral scales. This gives them a flatter appearance to elevated animals and makes it difficult for animals seeing them side on to differentiate between the ground and the snake.
I doubt this, though it’s a good thought to play with. The guys that prey on ball pythons are not the type to be bothered about where they start their meal, whether it be brain or butt. Ball pythons curl up with their head below the coils when threatened, in that situation the last thing you want to do is give the offending party a “head” to strike at. You would rather they had no attraction to your patterning whatsoever and move on with their day.
I would lean more toward disruptive. It is a counter-shading that breaks up the size/shape of the animal in the broken light of the underbrush where they tend to move about. It is less about blending with a very specific environment/background - which is what crypsis is typically defined as - and more about just fading into the background in general
Very unlikely. Most all of the species that use distraction technique are putting it as far from the head as possible, i.e., the tail. This is very well exemplified by things like rubber boas and Calabar boas. The patterning on balls is all along their flanks, which are just as vulnerable as the head in terms of attack given that is where you house the heart and lung and liver and such. Also consider that the alien heads look nothing like an actual ball python head, so they would not really be acting as a distraction because the potential predator would not see them as a snake head