Aquatic versus terrestrial locomotion: comparative performance of two ecologically contrasting species of European natricine snakes


Patrick T. Gregory, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, PO Box 3020, Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 3N5. Tel: +1 250 721 7103; Fax: +1 250 721 7120


One indicator of ecological differences between species is differential locomotory performance in different media. In this study, we compare locomotory speed of two species of natricine snakes on land and in water at a range of temperatures in the laboratory. As expected, both species moved more quickly at higher temperatures and both swam faster than they moved on land. However, the difference between aquatic and terrestrial speed was much greater for the aquatic species, Natrix maura, than for the semi-aquatic Natrix natrix. Furthermore, although N. maura was significantly faster than N. natrix in water, the opposite was true on land. In fact, N. maura was reluctant to move very far on land at all and would not complete a 2 m terrestrial course. Although we found no evidence of a negative correlation between the aquatic and terrestrial speeds of individual N. natrix, this interspecific comparison is consistent with the notion of a tradeoff between performance abilities on land and in water.