Latitudinal variation in seasonal activity and mortality in ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta)

Jinelle H. Sperry, Gabriel Blouin-Demers, Gerardo L.F. Carfagno, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ecology of ectotherms should be particularly affected by latitude because so much of their biology is temperature dependent. Current latitudinal patterns should also be informative about how ectotherms will have to modify their behavior in response to climate change. We used data from a total of 175 adult black ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta) radiotracked in Ontario, Illinois, and Texas, a latitudinal distance of > 1500 km, to test predictions about how seasonal patterns of activity and mortality should vary with latitude. Despite pronounced differences in temperatures among study locations, and despite ratsnakes in Texas not hibernating and switching from diurnal to nocturnal activity in the summer, seasonal patterns of snake activity were remarkably similar during the months that snakes in all populations were active. Rather than being a function of temperature, activity may be driven by the timing of reproduction, which appears similar among populations. Contrary to the prediction that mortality should be highest in the most active population, overall mortality did not follow a clinal pattern. Winter mortality did increase with latitude, however, consistent with temperature limiting the northern distribution of ratsnakes. This result was opposite that found in the only previous study of latitudinal variation in winter mortality in reptiles, which may be a consequence of whether or not the animals exhibit true hibernation. Collectively, these results suggest that, at least in the northern part of their range, ratsnakes should be able to adjust easily to, and may benefit from, a warmer climate, although climate-based changes to the snakes' prey or habitat, for example, could alter that prediction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1860-1866
Number of pages7
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Activity
  • Climate change
  • Ectotherm
  • Elaphe obsoleta
  • Latitude
  • Mortality
  • Season
  • Snakes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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