Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 87–101 | Cite as

Chemical and behavioral ecology of foraging in prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis viridis)

  • David Duvall
  • David Chiszar
  • William K. Hayes
  • Janet K. Leonhardt
  • Matthew J. Goode


Free-ranging prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis viridis) exhibit lengthy vernal migrations upon emergence from winter hibernation. A series of laboratory experiments was designed to test hypotheses regarding the function and causation of vernal movements. Rattlesnakes obtained from Wyoming and Colorado populations were used. First, we hypothesized that the function of vernal movements is to locate small mammal prey. Second, we predicted that activeC. v. viridis use prey chemicals, as well as other cues, to decide whether or not rodents are present in an area. Third, we hypothesized that vernally active males would be more responsive to rodent prey and their odors than females, given observed differences in behavior in the field. Fourth, we predicted that rattlesnakes captured in Colorado would be more sensitive to prey odors than those obtained in Wyoming, because of disparate community structure and, hence, small mammal spatial distributions. As expected, snakes exhibited reduced activity, as well as certain other dependent measures reflecting predatory investigation, in arena zones containing either live rodents or their chemicals. However, responses to the latter were reduced in Wyoming rattlesnakes tested with chemicals from deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), relative to Colorado animals tested with chemicals obtained from house mice (Mus musculus). In contrast to patterns observed in nature, males and females exhibited almost no differences in overall responsiveness. Results are discussed in the context of simulation modeling and ongoing studies of prairie rattlesnake behavior.

Key Words

Crotalus viridis viridis rattlesnake foraging predation chemical signals 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Duvall
    • 1
  • David Chiszar
    • 2
  • William K. Hayes
    • 1
  • Janet K. Leonhardt
    • 1
  • Matthew J. Goode
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology and PhysiologyUniversity of WyomingLaramie
  2. 2.Department of Psychology University of ColoradoBoulder

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