The behavioral reactions of a snake and a turtle to abrupt decreases in gravity. Academic Article uri icon


  • We report here on the behavioral reaction of two reptiles to abrupt decreases in gravity. One striped rat snake, Elaphe quadrivirgata, and three striped-neck pond turtles, Mauremys japonica, were exposed to microgravity on parabolic flight, during the filming of a documentary for the NHK television station in Japan. The video films revealed that the snake reflexively responded to the shift from hyper- to hypogravity by taking up a defensive posture--on the first parabola, the snake struck at itself. The turtles actively extended their limbs and hyper-extended their neck in microgravity, a posture which is identical to the displayed during their contact "righting reflex", when placed upside-down in normal gravity. The aggressive display of the snake was unexpected, although the righting response of the turtles was consistent with that shown by other vertebrates, including fish and mammals, exposed to microgravity. An implication of these observations is that the afferent signal for the righting reflex of vertebrates in normal gravity must be the unloading of ventral receptors in the sensory system, rather than the loading of dorsal receptors. These are the first behavioral records for any reptiles exposed to hypogravity.

publication date

  • January 1, 1993