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The Biological Function Of Tonic Immobility As A Natural Survival Mechanism And How It Helps

Tonic immobility is a reflex that causes an animal to be inactive for a short period of time. It is similar to hypnosis. It is found in various animals, including many sharks and rays. This trance-like condition is not uncommon. Tonic immobility is a natural condition of paralysis that animals enter, often called animal hypnosis. Its function is unknown. It might be associated with mating in some species, such as sharks. It might also evade or dissuade predators. Tonic immobility has also been used to describe the paralysis that frequently immobilizes animals, such as rodents or birds, when they perceive a predator. Tonic immobility aids survival by allowing a hunted animal to fit in with its environment. Tonic immobility can be generated without causing the animal any apparent stress. For instance, it caresses a specific portion of a lobster's shell or directs a hen's attention to a line on the ground.

Tonic immobility has also been reported in individuals who have experienced severe trauma, such as rape or sexual assault. Catatonia is a significant psychological illness that frequently results in immobility.

Why Do Sharks Go Into Tonic Immobility?

When the sensory pores on sharks' snouts and rays are activated, they enter a trance-like condition. This is referred to as tonic immobility or "trance." In some species, tonic stiffness can occur naturally. Some sharks can be put into a tonic condition. The shark stays paralyzed for fifteen minutes before regaining consciousness. Scientists have used this phenomenon to examine shark behavior. When certain sharks are turned upside down, they experience tonic immobility. Tonic immobility may be obtained with tiger sharks 3–4 meters (10–15 feet) in length by softly laying palms on the sides of the animal's snout around the general area surrounding its eyes. Tonic immobility in sharks is connected to mating since female sharks appear more receptive than males. The dorsal fin(s) straightens during tonic immobility, and respiration and muscular contractions become more steady and calm.

Great white sharks are less sensitive than other species when subjected to tonic immobility. In a strong eyewitness case off the coast of California, a female orca was witnessed holding the shark upside down to induce tonic immobility. It suffocated the shark by keeping it immobile for fifteen minutes. This was the first first-hand account of a creature other than humans predating a great white shark in the wild. Another example of orcas purposefully generating tonic immobility in fish has been observed in New Zealand with stingrays. In this scenario, the orca attacks upside down, trapping the stingrays in their teeth, then immediately right themselves, flipping the stingray over, producing tonic immobility, making the fish defenseless and an easy meal.

Tonic Immobility In Chickens

A chicken may be "hypnotized" or put into a trance by pressing its head against the ground and drawing a line with a stick or a finger down the floor, beginning at the beak and extending straight out in front of the chicken. If the chicken is hypnotized in this fashion, it will remain motionless for 15 seconds to 30 minutes, staring at the line. According to one idea, the trance is produced by dread, which is most likely a defense mechanism designed to mimic death, although ineffectively. The earliest recorded mention of this procedure was in Athanasius Kircher's Mirabile Experimentum de Imagination Gallinae, published in Rome in 1646.

Another hypnotic approach is to hold the chicken face up, back to the ground, and then run a finger downwards from the bird's wattles to just above its vent. The chicken's feet are exposed, making it easier to apply treatment for foot mites, etc. Clapping your hands or giving the bird a slight nudge can startle it awake. A chicken may also be hypnotized by imitating how it sleeps, with its head under its wing. Hold the bird securely, position its head beneath its wing, softly rock the chicken back and forth, and carefully place it on the ground. It should remain in the same position for around 30 seconds.

Method And Mechanism Of Tonic Immobility

The tonic immobility test is justified by the experimenter simulating a predator, producing an anti-predator reaction—"death faking." The principle is that the prey animal 'pretends' to be dead to escape when/if the predator's attention wavers. Tonic immobility in quail minimizes the likelihood of the birds being predated by cats; death-faking birds frequently take advantage of escape possibilities.

The animal is gently restrained on its side or back for some time to produce tonic immobility. This is done on a hard, flat surface or, in some instances, in a specially designed 'V' or 'U'-shaped restraining cradle. The reaction is occasionally elicited in rats by squeezing or attaching a clamp to the skin at the nape of the neck. Scientists track behaviors such as the number of inductions required for the animal to remain still, the latency to the first significant movements (often cycling motions of the legs), the latency to the first head or eye movements, and the duration of immobility, which is sometimes referred to as the 'righting time.' Tonic immobility has revealed that caged chickens are more nervous than pens. Hens at the top layer of tiered battery cages are scarier than those in the lower tiers. Chickens handled by hand are more terrifying than hens transported by motorized conveyors. Hens transferred for more extended periods are more fearful than hens move for shorter periods.

Tonic Immobility In Humans

Tonic immobility is an automatic reflexive reaction caused by the impression of impending danger that is characterized by reversible severe motor inhibition and relative insensitivity to external stimuli. Tonic immobility has been reported in individuals who have experienced severe trauma, such as rape or sexual assault. Catatonia is a significant psychological illness that frequently results in immobility.


Tonic immobility is a type of paralysis that occurs naturally in animals and humans. However, it has been employed as a research technique with mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, rats, rabbits, pigs, and monkeys.

About The Authors

Suleman Shah

Suleman Shah - Suleman Shah is a researcher and freelance writer. As a researcher, he has worked with MNS University of Agriculture, Multan (Pakistan) and Texas A & M University (USA). He regularly writes science articles and blogs for science news website immersse.com and open access publishers OA Publishing London and Scientific Times. He loves to keep himself updated on scientific developments and convert these developments into everyday language to update the readers about the developments in the scientific era. His primary research focus is Plant sciences, and he contributed to this field by publishing his research in scientific journals and presenting his work at many Conferences. Shah graduated from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad (Pakistan) and started his professional carrier with Jaffer Agro Services and later with the Agriculture Department of the Government of Pakistan. His research interest compelled and attracted him to proceed with his carrier in Plant sciences research. So, he started his Ph.D. in Soil Science at MNS University of Agriculture Multan (Pakistan). Later, he started working as a visiting scholar with Texas A&M University (USA). Shah’s experience with big Open Excess publishers like Springers, Frontiers, MDPI, etc., testified to his belief in Open Access as a barrier-removing mechanism between researchers and the readers of their research. Shah believes that Open Access is revolutionizing the publication process and benefitting research in all fields.

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