Sex ratios, mating behavior and sexual size dimorphism of the northern water snake, Nerodia sipedon

Abstract

Competition among males to mate is generally associated with male-biased size dimorphism. In this study we examine mating behavior in the northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon), a species in which males are much smaller than females despite substantial competition among males to mate. Competition among males was a consequence of a male-biased operational sex ratio due to slightly higher female mortality from a birth sex ratio of 1 : 1, and, in 1 year, more synchronous and longer mating activity by males. Approximately one-third of both males and females appeared not to mate in a given year. Larger males were generally more likely to attempt mating, but size did not explain the variance in the number of aggregations in which individual males participated. Within aggregations, males that were successful at achieving intromission were larger than unsuccessful males in 1 of 2 years. Variation in condition (mass relative to length) and relative tail length were not generally useful predictors of either mating effort or success in males. Because large size was often advantageous to males, sexual size dimorphism appeared not to be a consequence of sexual selection favoring smaller males. Because sexual dimorphism was evident at birth, and both males and females matured sexually at about 4 years, sexual dimorphism was not simply a consequence of one sex growing at the maximum rate for longer. Female fecundity increased with size, and sex differences in size-fecundity relations may underly the pattern of sexual size dimorphism. However, because multiple mating by females is common, sperm competition is likely to be important in determining male reproductive success. Therefore, allocation of energy to sperm rather than growth may also prove to be an important influence on male growth rates and sexual size dimorphism.

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Communicated by F. Trillmich

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Weatherhead, P.J., Barry, F.E., Brown, G.P. et al. Sex ratios, mating behavior and sexual size dimorphism of the northern water snake, Nerodia sipedon . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 36, 301–311 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00167791

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Key words

  • Nerodia sipedon
  • Sexual size dimorphism
  • Sex ratios
  • Mating behavior