Phenology and predictors of spring emergence for the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Andrew C. Jesper, Scott A. Eckert, Brian J. Bielema, Scott R. Ballard, Michael J. Dreslik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Many temperate reptiles survive winter by using subterranean refugia until external conditions become suitable for activity. Determining when to emerge from refugia relies on the ability to interpret when above-ground environmental conditions are survivable. If temperate reptiles rely on specific environmental cues such as temperature to initiate emergence, we should expect emergence phenologies to be predictable using local climatic data. However, specific predictors of emergence for many temperate reptiles, including the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), remain unclear, limiting our understanding of their overwintering phenology and restricting effective conservation and management. Our objectives were to identify environmental cues of spring emergence for C. horridus in Illinois to determine the species’ emergence phenology, and to examine the applicability of identified cues in predicting emergence phenology across the species’ range. We used wildlife cameras and weather station-derived environmental data to observe and predict the daily surface presence of C. horridus throughout the late winter and early spring at communal refugia in west-central and northern Illinois. The most parsimonious model for predicting surface presence included the additive effects of maximum daily temperature, accumulated degree days, and latitude. With a notable exception in the southeastern U.S., the model accurately predicted the average emergence day for eight other populations range wide, emphasizing the importance of temperature in influencing the phenological plasticity observed across the species’ range. The apparent broad applicability of the model to other populations suggests it can be a valuable tool in predicting spring emergence phenology. Our results provide a foundation for further ecological enquiries and improved management and conservation strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere16044
JournalPeerJ
Volume11
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Brumation
  • Degree days
  • Hibernacula
  • Pitviper
  • Spring egress
  • Squamate
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Neuroscience
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences

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