Abstract and Summary

The role of prey movement in feeding behavior was investigated in 10 garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) repeatedly presented with paired stationary and continuously rotating sections of earthworm (Lumbricus terrestris). Additionally, prey odor intensity and source were varied and the performance of a tongueless snake was compared to normal animals.

Experiment 1 showed that garter snakes will selectively attack rotating over nonmoving sections of earthworm across a wide range of speeds (1–2048 rpm) with an optimum between 16 and 256 rpm. However, blocking the odor from the sections and presentation of speeds greater than 500 rpm decreased response to moving sections. Experiment 2 showed that at 22–32 rpm moving sections were selected over stationary sections when odor from both was blocked.

Experiment 3 assessed the effects of varying ambient odor conditions upon selection of artificial moving and stationary prey. Ambient earthworm odor resulted in a sustained high rate of tongue-flicking while, with no odor present, snakes showed a gradually increasing rate of tongue-flicking that declined within a few minutes.

Experiments 4 and 5 studied the effects of tongue removal upon the selection of moving and nonmoving prey. Gross changes in the feeding sequence were noted. A long-term tongue-less adult fed by opening her mouth and thrashing about her cage when presented with earthworm odor and only preferred moving prey at 32 rpm; a control showed the normal stalk-and-strike sequence. The tongueless snake was less attracted to the moving earthworm at a distance than were normal snakes and the use of vision seemed less integrated rather than compensably improved.

The results are discussed in reference to the critical flicker-fusion frequency, klepto-parasitism, and escape tactics of prey.