Thermoregulation during gravidity in the children's python (Antaresia childreni): a test of the preadaptation hypothesis for maternal thermophily in snakes




Pregnant squamate reptiles (i.e. lizards and snakes) often maintain higher and more stable body temperatures than their nonpregnant conspecifics, and this maternal thermophily enhances developmental rate and can lead to increased offspring quality. However, it is unclear when this behaviour evolved relative to the evolution of viviparity. A preadaptation hypothesis suggests that maternal thermophily was a preadaptation to viviparity. Oviparous squamates are unique among oviparous reptiles for generally retaining their eggs until the embryos achieve one fourth of their development. As a result, maternal thermophily by gravid squamates may provide the same thermoregulatory benefits, at least during early development, that have been associated with viviparity. Thus, the evolution of viviparity in squamates may reflect an expanded duration of a pre-existing maternal thermoregulatory behaviour. Despite its evolutionary relevance, thermoregulation during gravidity in oviparous squamates has not yet been explored in depth. In the present study, we examined whether gravidity was associated with thermoregulatory changes in the oviparous children's python, Antaresia childreni. First, we discovered that, compared to most snakes, A. childreni is at an advanced stage of embryonic development at oviposition. Second, using surgically implanted temperature loggers, we detected a significant influence of reproductive status on thermoregulation. Reproductive females maintained higher and less variable body temperatures than nonreproductive females and this difference was most pronounced during the last 3 weeks of gravidity. Overall, these results highlight the continuum between oviparity and viviparity in squamate reptiles and emphasize the importance of thermal control of early embryonic development independent of reproductive mode. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 93, 499–508.