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Correlations between Ontogenetic Change in Color Pattern and Antipredator Behavior in the Racer, Coluber constrictor


Douglas Creer, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, 11200 SW 8th St. Miami, FL 33199, USA. E-mail:


Differences in snake color pattern have been demonstrated to affect behaviors involved in antipredator defense. Snakes with blotched or banded color patterns are concealed when not moving, and tend to rely on concealment and aggression for defense. In contrast, snakes with uniform or striped color patterns are easily seen when stationary, but their speed and direction are difficult to track when moving. They tend to rely on flight for protection. Some snake taxa exhibit ontogenetic change in color pattern, but the behavioral consequences of this change have not been investigated. I present results of a behavioral study in the racer, Coluber constrictor, which has a blotched juvenile color pattern but is uniformly colored as an adult. Hatchling racers were significantly more likely than adults to show aggressive behavior when confronted with a model predator, whereas adults were more likely to flee. This supports the hypothesis that changes in behavior and color pattern are correlated in this species to provide effective antipredator defense at different stages of life history. I also examined sprint speed, which may be an important factor in antipredator defense. Juvenile and adult racers showed a similar relationship between length and speed, a pattern also seen in other species that lack color change. This result suggests that sprint speed is not a causal factor in the evolution of ontogenetic color change.