My lab focuses on the functional, morphological, ecological and evolutionary foundations of some behaviors of ectothermic tetrapods, particularly legless ones, like snakes. The behavior I have looked at most intensely is feeding behavior, but other maintenance behaviors, like drinking and locomotion, have also been examined. My primary interests lie in applying anatomical data to natural history and evolutionary problems. I am particularly interested in finding out how the highly specialized feeding apparatus of snakes has evolved. My research applies behavioral data to anatomy, basically using behavior to guide anatomical analysis. I do what I do because I like to watch living animals—both in the lab and in the field—and I have always been fascinated by animal structure and how it defines behavior. Most of the anatomical analysis is done at gross and microdissectional levels but histological data are also collected to answer specific questions when tissue organization becomes relevant.
On-going projects are diverse and involve various kinds of collaborations. I recently completed a thirty-year project on snake drinking that involved periodic collaborations with Beth Brainerd (Brown University), Nate Kley (Stony Brook University), Alex Deufel (Minot State University), and Lehigh undergraduates Doug Grapski and Joe Constantino. I am now analyzing ten years of data on viper striking mechanics and finishing another multiyear project with my wife, Fran Irish, on striking mechanics in booid snakes. Other on-going projects include one on the evolution of drinking mechanisms in snakes (with Fran Irish and past students Joe Constantino, Alex Gray, and Lynn Sladowsky), one on play-like behavior during drinking in snakes, one on measuring snakes (with Alex Deufel and Abigail Pattishall), and one on mandible use during striking in vipers (with Stephen Deban, University of South Florida).
From left to right, Jordan Ecker, Jennifer Cohen, Tina Wise, Cassie Tuttman,
Andrew Thiel, Matt Close, and undergraduate animal technician Diana Liriano.
Animal Care Technician
My graduate students have explored a variety of related problems but typically do their research partially or completely independent of my on-going projects. My current graduate students, Matthew Close and Justina Wise, are working on different aspects of snake feeding. Matt is finishing a complex project on the structural basis of extensibility in the lower jaws of snakes and Tina is beginning a project on feeding behavior in rear-fanged snakes while also learning histological techniques studying esophageal structure.
At any one time, I usually have one to four undergraduate students developing small, independent research projects. Students currently in the lab include Jennifer Cohen (working on prey manipulation in arboreal booids), Jordan Ecker (working on tooth row variation in boas), Andrew Thiel (working on prey responses to strikes by booid snakes) and Cassie Tuttman (working, along with Tina Wise, on esophageal structure in snakes).
Cundall, D. and H. W. Greene. 2000. Feeding in snakes, pp. 293-333. In: Feeding: Form, Function and Evolution in Tetrapod Vertebrates. K. Schwenk (ed.). Academic Press: San Diego .
Cundall, D. 2000. Drinking in snakes: kinematic cycling and water transport. Journal of Experimental Biology 203: 2171-2185.
Cundall, D. and S. J. Beaupre. 2001. Field records of predatory strike kinematics in timber rattlesnakes, Crotalus horridus . Amphibia-Reptilia 22:492-498.
Cundall, D. 2002 Envenomation strategies, head form, and feeding ecology in vipers, pp. 149-161. In: Biology of the Vipers, G. Schuett, M. Höggren, M. E. Douglas, and H. W. Greene (eds.). Eagle Mountain Publishing, Utah .
Deufel, A. and D. Cundall. 2003. Feeding in Atractaspis (Serpentes: Atractaspididae): A study in conflicting functional constraints. Zoology 106:43-61.
Deufel, A. and D. Cundall. 2003. Prey transport in "palatine-erecting" elapid snakes. Journal of Morphology 258:358-375.
Cundall, D. and Deufel, A. 2006. Influence of the venom delivery system on intraoral prey transport
in snakes. Zool. Anz. 245: 193-210.
Deufel, A. and Cundall, D. 2006. Functional plasticity of the venom delivery system in snakes
with a focus on the poststrike prey release behavior. Zool. Anz. 245: 249-267.
Cundall, D., A. Deufel, and F. Irish. 2007. Feeding in boas and pythons: motor recruitment patterns during striking, pp 169-197. In: Biology of the Boas and Pythons, R. W. Henderson and R. Powell (eds.), Eagle Mountain Publishing.
Buckley, C. A., J. E. Schneider, and D. Cundall. 2007. Kinematic analysis of an appetitive food-handling behavior: the functional morphology of Syrian hamster cheek pouches. J. Exp. Biol. 210:3096-3106.
Pattishall, A. and D. Cundall. 2008. Dynamic changes in body form during swimming in water snakes, Nerodia sipedon. Zoology 111:48-61.
Cundall, D. and F. Irish. 2008. The snake skull, pp. 349-692. In: Biology of the Reptilia, Vol. 20, Morphology H, C. Gans, A. S. Gaunt, and K. Adler (eds.). Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca, NY.
Pattishall, A. and D. Cundall. 2008. Spatial biology of northern watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) living along an urban stream. Copeia 2008:752-762.
Cundall, D. 2009. Viper fangs: Functional limitations of extreme teeth. Physiol. Biochem. Zool. 82:63-79
Pattishall, A. and D. Cundall. 2009. Habitat use by synurbic watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon). Herpetologica 65, 183-198.
Deufel, A. and D. Cundall. 2010. Functional morphology of the palato-maxillary apparatus in "palatine-dragging" snakes (Serpentes: Elapidae: Acanthophis, Oxyuranus). J. Morphol. 271:73-85.
Cundall, D. and A. Pattishall. 2011. Foraging time investment in an urban population of watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon). J. Herpetol. 45:174-177.
Cundall, D., B. Brainerd, J. Constantino, A. Deufel, D. Grapski, and N. Kley. 2012. Drinking in snakes: resolving a biomechanical puzzle. J. Exp. Zool. 317:152-172.
Cover Article for the journal, and reviewed in the New Scientist, on the Discovery Channel Canada, and on CBC's nightly current events radio show "As It Happens", which is carried by some NPR stations.
Close, M.T. and D. Cundall. 2012 Mammals as prey: estimating ingestible size. J. Morphol. 273:1042-1049.
Close M. and D. Cundall. 2014. Snake lower jaw skin: Extension and recovery of a hyperextensible keratinized integument. J. Exp. Zool. 321A:78-97.
Cundall, D., C. Tuttman and M. Close. 2014. A model of the anterior esophagus in snakes, with functional and developmental implications. Anat. Rec. 297:586-598.