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Feeding in natricines: relationships among feeding morphology, behavior, performance and preferred prey type


  • P. M. Hampton

    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction, CO, USA
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Lafayette, LA, USA
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  • Editor: Andrew Kitchener


Paul M. Hampton, Department of Biology, Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction, CO, USA.



The diversity of feeding mechanisms among predators reflects phenotypic modifications that may improve feeding performance on a preferred prey type. I compared trophic morphology, feeding performance (time and upper-jaw walks) and behavior (initial bite and ingestion directions) among three species of natricine snakes that were fed fish and frogs over a broad range of relative prey sizes. Feeding behavior was influenced by prey type but did not differ among the snake species. Both bite and ingestion directions influenced the number of upper-jaw movements (lateral excursions and protractions) required to consume fish, but only initial bite position significantly affected the number of upper-jaw movements required to ingest frogs. Within snake species, feeding performance did not differ between fish and frogs for Nerodia fasciata and Nerodia rhombifer; however, Thamnophis proximus consumed fish with fewer upper-jaw movements. Feeding time differed significantly among snake species when fed both fish and frogs. Trophic morphology did not significantly affect ingestion costs for fish but did influence ingestion when fed frogs. In general, differences in trophic morphology among the three species are not correlated to handling and ingestion performance.