Sex-specific growth is mirrored in feeding rate but not moulting frequency in a sexually dimorphic snake

Abstract

Sexual size dimorphism (SSD), commonly observed in snakes, may arise from a different growth rate between the sexes. This indicates a sex-specific resource intake that is in fact observable in free-living snakes. It is not so well known whether the sexes can express differential feeding rates under conditions unconstrained by spatial accessibility, competition, etc. Here, I studied sex-specific variation in growth, its correlate—moulting frequency, and feeding rate in a captive group of sexually dimorphic banded water snakes (Nerodia fasciata) with access to food unconstrained by predation, competition or space. I showed that the sexes did indeed differ in relative mass growth in that females grew faster than males (p = 0.02), but such differences were not apparent in the moulting rate (p = 0.19). Such differential growth was mirrored in the sex-specific feeding rate, with females ingesting a larger number of meals than males (p = 0.004). Such variation in feeding rate may be governed by an individual’s energy expenditure and can be interpreted as a behavioural tendency that contributes to SSD development, independently of other behavioural characteristics. Sex-specific resource demands may drive the differential effects of increasing resource scarcity on both sexes.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The dataset is provided in a supplementary file.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Oliver Hawlitschek and one anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on the manuscript. I also thank Peter Senn for providing linguistic corrections to the manuscript.

Funding

The study was supported by a grant from National Science Centre in Poland (grant No. UMO-2016/21/N/NZ8/00959 and UMO-2019/32/T/NZ8/00410) and Jagiellonian University (DS/BW UJ INoS 757).

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Correspondence to Stanisław Bury.

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Communicated by: Oliver Hawlitschek

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Bury, S. Sex-specific growth is mirrored in feeding rate but not moulting frequency in a sexually dimorphic snake. Sci Nat 108, 6 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-020-01712-y

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Keywords

  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Growth
  • Food intake
  • Reptile
  • Feeding rate
  • Moulting