, Volume 180, Issue 3, pp 415-425

Thermal strategies and energetics in two sympatric colubrid snakes with contrasted exposure

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Abstract

The thermoregulatory strategy of reptiles should be optimal if ecological costs (predation risk and time devoted to thermoregulation) are minimized while physiological benefits (performance efficiency and energy gain) are maximized. However, depending on the exact shape of the cost and benefit curves, different thermoregulatory optima may exist, even between sympatric species. We studied thermoregulation in two coexisting colubrid snakes, the European whipsnake (Hierophis viridiflavus, Lacépède 1789) and the Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus, Laurenti 1768) that diverge markedly in their exposure, but otherwise share major ecological and morphological traits. The exposed species (H. viridiflavus) selected higher body temperatures (~30°C) than the secretive species (Z. longissimus, ~25°C) both in a laboratory thermal gradient and in the field. Moreover, this difference in body temperature was maintained under thermophilic physiological states such as digestion and molting. Physiological and locomotory performances were optimized at higher temperatures in H. viridiflavus compared to Z. longissimus, as predicted by the thermal coadaptation hypothesis. Metabolic and energetic measurements indicated that energy requirements are at least twice higher in H. viridiflavus than in Z. longissimus. The contrasted sets of coadapted traits between H. viridiflavus and Z. longissimus appear to be adaptive correlates of their exposure strategies.

Communicated by I. D. Hume.