Food habits of the long-nosed snake (Rhinocheilus lecontei), a ‘specialist’ predator?

Authors

  • Javier A. Rodríguez-Robles,

    Corresponding author
    1. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3160, U.S.A.
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  • Harry W. Greene

    1. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3160, U.S.A.
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    • Section of Ecology and Systematics, Division of Biological Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-2701, U.S.A.


All correspondence to: Javier A. Rodríguez-Robles, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3160, U.S.A. E-mail: javier@socrates.berkeley.edu

Abstract

We explored predator specialization by examining dietary variation in the widespread North American long-nosed snake, Rhinocheilus lecontei. We examined the stomach contents of more than 800 museum specimens, and supplemented our findings with published dietary records. Sixty-six percent of 135 prey eaten by R. lecontei were lizards, 26% were mammals, and 7% were squamate eggs; teiid lizards of the genus Cnemidophorus comprised 72% (64 of 89) of all lizard prey. Ninety-four percent of specimens with food contained a single item, and all 79 prey for which we determined direction of ingestion were swallowed head-first. Among those specimens containing food, long-nosed snakes from Mexico were significantly larger, and ate a higher percentage of mammals, than specimens from the United States. Larger R. lecontei sometimes fed on larger prey, and perhaps excluded smaller prey from their diet. To assess relative trophic niche breadth for R. lecontei, we compared the percentage of lizards and of Cnemidophorus in the diet of long-nosed snakes with the percentage with which other terrestrial snakes consumed lizards as their modal prey, and with which these same snakes ate members of their preferred lizard prey genus. Although we uncovered no statistical basis for labelling R. lecontei a specialist, its diet may often be restricted to lizards and even to Cnemidophorus, and therefore recognizing long-nosed snakes as specialist predators remains a subjective decision. Our study also demonstrates that quantitative natural history can place related species in a resource use continuum, and thereby can help to elucidate the evolutionary basis for specialization.

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