, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 269–277 | Cite as

Sexual size dimorphism and male combat in snakes

  • Richard Shine


This paper reviews published literature on snakes to test the hypothesis that large male size, relative to female size, evolves because of the advantage it confers in male combat. Analysis of the data reveals a high correlation between the occurrence of male combat, and sexual dimorphism in which the male is the larger sex. This correlation holds (i) within the total sample of snake species (n=224), (ii) within the family Colubridae (n=134), and (iii) in a comparison between the eight families of snakes for which data are available. These results strongly support the hypothesis that large male size is an adaptation to intrasexual competition. The analysis also shows that females are larger than males in about 66% of snake species, that male combat is known in only about 15% of species, and that both sexual size dimorphism and the incidence of male combat tend to be distributed along taxonomic lines.


Total Sample Sexual Dimorphism Sexual Size Dimorphism Female Size Male Size 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Shine
    • 1
  1. 1.Zoology DepartmentUniversity of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia

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