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Meal Size Effects on Antipredator Behavior of Hatchling Trinket Snakes, Elaphe helena


Rita S. Mehta, Department of Biology, University of Texas, Tyler, TX, USA.

Present address
Section of Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis, CA, USA


Current foraging models limit the decision-making process of animals to the food searching and consuming phase. The post-consummatory phase of feeding may influence optimal meal size for some species as a morphologic change often results from feeding. In snakes, a single prey item can lead to abrupt increases in body mass, thus influencing locomotor performance. Identifying factors affecting locomotor performance can help predict behaviors that should maximize an animal's chance of evading predators. Although many snakes ingest large percentages of their body mass, not much work has examined the post-consummatory effects of ingesting bulky prey differing in relative mass. I examined the locomotor performance and antipredator tactics of hatchling trinket snakes (Elaphe helena) after subjecting snakes to mice prey varying by relative mass differences of 20–35%, 50–59% or 70–79% of an individual hatchling's body mass. Snakes in treatment groups were compared with snakes in a control group (0%). Meal size-affected locomotor parameters such as burst speed, endurance, and endurance times for hatchlings that ingested 50–59% and 70–79% of their body mass (p < 0.001). Recent feeding also affected the types of antipredator modes employed. Hatchlings in the 0% and 20–35% treatments exhibited behaviors that were categorized as active and threatening, while hatchlings in the 50–59% and 70–79% treatments exhibited stationary, neutral, and cryptic behaviors. Although snakes may become more reclusive following a meal, this study demonstrates that relative prey mass affects the ability of hatchling trinket snakes to flee from a predator. In turn, these results suggest that the post-consummatory effects of foraging should be considered in optimal foraging models for organisms that consume a substantial portion of their body mass during a single feeding.