Date of Graduation

Spring 2017


Master of Science in Biology



Committee Chair

Brian Greene


cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus, pitviper, snake, associative learning, spatial memory, conditioning, visual cues, chemosensory cues

Subject Categories



Learning processes can have significant adaptive value in mediating behaviors with important fitness consequences. For snakes, learning may ensure the localization of key resources including food and shelter. Snakes are proportionately underrepresented in reptile learning studies, and the majority of research subjects are within the family Colubridae. I presented captive cottonmouth snakes with two types of learning challenges. In a spatial learning experiment, snakes learned the location of a cover object in a circular laboratory arena, as demonstrated by a 56% reduction of time and 57% reduction of distance travelled to a shelter across a series of training trials. In a foraging experiment, snakes were trained to feed on live minnows in water bowls associated with a landmark. When given a dichotomous choice between two water bowls containing only fish cues, trained snakes were significantly more likely to set up ambush postures at the landmark bowl rather than the control. Untrained snakes presented with the same challenge showed no preference for either option.


© Rhyan Robert Jostan Friesen

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