Individual and sex-based differences in behaviour and ecology of rat snakes in winter

J. H. Sperry, Patrick J Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Most research on the winter ecology of temperate-zone snakes is restricted to aspects of hibernation, because that is largely how snakes spend the winter. At lower latitudes, however, the same snake species may be active during winter, although why they are active and how much individuals vary in activity is unknown. We used radio-telemetry data from three winters to document winter movements of 30 rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta) in Texas. Snakes moved in all months, although there was substantial individual and gender-based variation. Consistent with active snakes foraging, monthly variation in movement was associated with availability of 'thermal windows' that would allow digestion of a meal. Females were more active than males, suggesting increased foraging demands. Individual activity in winter was positively correlated with activity the previous summer, particular among females. This may reflect enduring effects of variation in reproductive costs, or intrinsic variation in activity of individual snakes. Variation in activity was associated with differences in habitat use but not thermoregulation, although the data available to assess thermoregulation allowed limited resolution. Climate warming will increase the thermal opportunities for winter foraging, which will have implications both for snakes and their prey.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-149
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Zoology
Volume287
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012

Fingerprint

snake
snakes
ecology
winter
gender
rats
thermoregulation
foraging
Elaphe obsoleta
reproductive cost
heat
hibernation
radiotelemetry
radio telemetry
temperate zones
habitat use
global warming
digestion
warming
summer

Keywords

  • Activity
  • Elaphe obsoleta
  • Habitat use
  • Individual behaviour
  • Thermoregulation
  • Winter ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Cite this

Individual and sex-based differences in behaviour and ecology of rat snakes in winter. / Sperry, J. H.; Weatherhead, Patrick J.

In: Journal of Zoology, Vol. 287, No. 2, 01.06.2012, p. 142-149.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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