Does prey size induce head skeleton phenotypic plasticity during early ontogeny in the snake Boa constrictor?

Authors

  • Gordon W. Schuett,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Integrated Natural Sciences, Arizona State University West, P.O. Box 37100, Phoenix, AZ 85069-7100, U.S.A.
    2. Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University, 33 Gilmer Street, Atlanta, GA 30303-3088, U.S.A.
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  • David L. Hardy,

    1. Department of Integrated Natural Sciences, Arizona State University West, P.O. Box 37100, Phoenix, AZ 85069-7100, U.S.A.
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  • Ryan L. Earley,

    1. Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Georgia State University, 33 Gilmer Street, Atlanta, GA 30303-3088, U.S.A.
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  • Harry W. Greene

    1. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Corson Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2701, U.S.A.
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All correspondence to: G. W. Schuett, Department of Integrated Natural Sciences, Arizona State University West, P.O. Box 37100, Phoenix, AZ 85069-7100, U.S.A. E-mail: biogws@langate.gsu.edu and gwschuett@yahoo.com

Abstract

Diet was manipulated in juveniles of the snake Boa constrictor (Serpentes: Boidae) to test the hypothesis of whether prey size induces phenotypic plasticity of the head skeleton. Additionally, the onset of sexual size dimorphisms (SSDs) was determined under a feeding schedule where total prey mass consumed by snakes was held constant. Twenty-three neonatal B. constrictor from a single-sired litter were placed into two treatment groups but maintained under identical environmental conditions. Group 1 (small-food treatment) was fed weanling mice throughout the entire study; group 2 (large-food treatment) was fed weanling mice, followed by rats of increasing size as the size of the snakes increased. At the termination of the study, group 1 consumed more meals but both groups consumed an equivalent mass of rodents. The snakes were measured twice during the study (5 weeks and 58 weeks). All measurements were obtained while the snakes were under general anaesthesia. Linear measurements of the head skeleton (premaxilla–basioccipital (rostrum–occipital) length, ROL; mandible length, ML) were derived from radiographs. The remaining measurements were snout–vent length (SVL), body length (BL), tail length (TL), and body mass (BM). Treatment effects between groups were equivalent, with the exception of BM and TL (group 1>group 2), and interactions between main effects were not statistically significant. Between-group differences in ROL and ML were not significant; thus, prey size did not exert an influence on growth of the head skeleton. In contrast, significant sex effects on SVL and BL (females>males) and TL (males>females) were detected, and sex effects on BM (females>males) approached significance. Because SSDs emerged during early ontogeny under conditions where prey mass consumed was held constant, a genetic role is implicated.

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