Death-shamming in the Rinkhals
Death-shamming, death-feigning, playing dead, and thanatosis are all words that describe the process whereby animals pretend to be dead in the hope of being left alone by a perceived threat. When encountered, the Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemechatus) will often take every opportunity to escape. When cornered they will lift nearly half of their body off the ground and spread a large hood in an attempt to intimidate the perceived threat. Once hooded, the Rinkhals may begin to spit venom in the general direction of the danger. Although not incredibly accurate, Rinkhals can spit their venom as far as two metres.
Although very well documented in the Rinkhals, thanatosis is usually a last resort. If the spread hood and the venom-spitting does not deter the attacker, then a Rinkhals will roll over onto its back, open its mouth and remain completely motionless. If it is feeling theatrically inclined, it may even allow its tongue to hang out of its mouth in an attempt to fool the perceived predator into thinking that it is dead. If picked up during death-feigning, the snake may remain limp, or in some cases it will spring back to life and bite whatever has picked it up.
Thanatosis has been found in other species of African snake. Examples include the Striped Skaapsteker (Psammophylax tritaeniatus) and the Natal Black Snake (Macrelaps microlepidotus).