Date of Graduation

Fall 2019

Degree

Master of Science in Biology

Department

Biology

Committee Chair

Brian Greene

Keywords

chemical cues, scent trailing, predator avoidance, pitvipers, Agkistrodon piscivorus

Subject Categories

Behavior and Ethology

Abstract

For snakes, chemical recognition of predators, prey, and conspecifics has important ecological consequences. For example, detection of predator cues can reduce predation risk. Similarly, scent trailing of conspecifics to communal hibernacula can improve overwinter survival for neonates. I used y-maze choice trials to examine scent-trailing ability of 32 captive-born juvenile cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) in two separate experiments. In conspecific trailing tests, subjects preferred to follow cues from their own mothers over a blank control cue, but also preferred to trail cues from unrelated adult females compared to cues from their own mothers. My results are consistent with previous reports and suggest that juvenile cottonmouths also trail conspecifics to hibernacula. However, the preference for trailing non-maternal cues, given the occurrence of post-partum mother-offspring affiliations in cottonmouths, is not easily explained. In predator avoidance trials, test subjects showed no preference for the blank control versus the king snake cue arm, or non-predator control (crayfish) and kingsnake arm. Indifference to kingsnake cues is inconsistent with results from tests with colubrids where kingsnake cues were clearly avoided. Although kingsnakes are known predators of venomous snakes, it is possible that cottonmouths may not avoid chemical cues without visual confirmation of a threat. My results support a growing awareness that pitviper behaviors are more complex than currently appreciated.

Copyright

© Chelsea E. Martin

Open Access

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