Video: How Cobras Hit the Bull's-Eye

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Credit: Guido Westhoff and Bruce Young

Think your job is dangerous? Try getting a cobra to squirt poison in your face for a living. To find out how snakes of the genus Naja spew venom at a moving target's eyes with 90% accuracy, a team of researchers donned face shields and wiggled their heads while the cobras watched. Accelerometers on the shields tracked the scientist's movements, while a high-speed camera recorded the cobra's motions. The team discovered that the snakes would wait until a researcher suddenly jerked his head to one side and then, in a split second, exactly mimic this lurch before letting loose their venom. In nearly every trial, this mirroring meant the cobra's head moved in the same direction as the target's, accurately predicting where the researcher's eyes would be, according to work reported today in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology. The results suggest that these snakes posses greater coordination between their vision and motor movements than previously observed in reptiles; bad news for the antelope they blind with their venom.

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