Maternal provisioning of sequestered defensive steroids by the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus
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- Hutchinson, D.A., Savitzky, A.H., Mori, A. et al. Chemoecology (2008) 18: 181. doi:10.1007/s00049-008-0404-5
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Rhabdophis tigrinus obtains defensive steroids (bufadienolides) from its diet and sequesters those compounds in specialized structures on its neck known as nuchal glands. Hatchling snakes lacking these steroids must acquire them from toads consumed as prey. Here we show that females provision bufadienolides to their offspring in amounts correlated to the quantity in their own nuchal glands; thus, chemically protected mothers produce defended offspring. Bufadienolides can be provisioned to embryos via deposition in yolk and by transfer across the egg membranes within the oviducts. Maternally provisioned bufadienolides persist in the nuchal glands of juvenile snakes from the time of hatching in late summer until the following spring, when toads of ingestible size become abundant. Therefore, maternal provisioning may provide chemical protection from predators for young R. tigrinus in the absence of dietary sources of bufadienolides.