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Keywords:

  • sexual dimorphism;
  • neonate;
  • garter snake;
  • Thamnophis sirtalis

Abstract

Morphological and behavioral differences between sexes are commonplace throughout the animal kingdom. Body size is one of the most obvious sex differences frequently found in snakes. However, the developmental origins of size differences in many species, including snakes, are not well known. We examined post-natal variation in sexual size dimorphism in garter snakes Thamnophis sirtalis. The weights, body and tail lengths, and head sizes of male and female neonates born to mothers collected from ecologically dissimilar habitats on Beaver Island, Lake Michigan were compared. Sexual size dimorphism was prominent. Overall, males had significantly longer bodies and tails than females. Females were significantly heavier and had larger heads than male snakes. Maternal site affected head but not body measurements, perhaps due to differences in prey availability. The body condition of maternal females predicted neonatal body length. Significant litter variation suggests heritable variation in morphological traits possibly correlated with feeding success and survival.