Advertisement

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 162–166 | Cite as

Chemosensory cues allow courting male garter snakes to assess body length and body condition of potential mates

  • R. Shine
  • B. Phillips
  • H. Waye
  • M. LeMaster
  • R. T. Mason
Original Article

Abstract

When choosing between two potential mates, a male may benefit by picking a larger (longer and/or more heavy-bodied) female because she is likely to produce more or larger offspring. Males of many species use visual cues to evaluate the sizes of their mates, but in some situations (at night or in a crowded mating swarm), vision may be useless. Potentially, males may be able to use chemical cues that convey information about female body size. We manipulated cues available to free-ranging male garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) in large courting aggregations near communal dens in Manitoba, Canada. Males not only directed disproportionate courtship to longer and heavier-bodied females, but also courted most vigorously in response to lipids extracted from the skins of such females. Our data show that with a flick of his tongue, a male garter snake can identify not only a female's body length, but also her body condition.

Keywords

Courtship Garter snake Lipids Pheromones Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We thank D. Roberts, A. Johnson, G. Johnson, and R. Nesbitt for help and encouragement. Financial support was provided by the Australian Research Council, the National Science Foundation, and the Whitehall Foundation (W95–04). Research was conducted under the authority of Oregon State University Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Protocol No. LAR-1848B. All research was conducted in accord with the U.S. Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and the National Institutes of Health Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, and conforms to all current Canadian laws.

References

  1. Andersson M (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  2. Bonnet X, Naulleau G, Shine R, Lourdais O (2001) Short-term versus long-term effects of food intake on reproductive output in a viviparous snake Vipera aspis. Oikos 92:297–308Google Scholar
  3. Brown WD (1990) Size-assortative mating in the blister beetle Lytta magister (Coleoptera:Meloidae) is due to male and female preference for larger mates. Anim Behav 40:901–909Google Scholar
  4. Brown WD (1993) The causes of size-assortative mating in the leaf beetle Trirhabda canadensis (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 33:151–157Google Scholar
  5. Clutton-Brock TH (1991) The evolution of parental care. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New JerseyGoogle Scholar
  6. Devine MC (1977) Copulatory plugs, restricted mating opportunities and reproductive competition among male garter snakes. Nature 267:345–346PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Dewsbury DA (1982) Ejaculate cost and male choice. Am Nat 119:601–610CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Duvall D, King MB, Gutzweiler KJ (1985) Behavioral ecology and ethology of the prairie rattlesnake. Natl Geogr Res 1:80–111Google Scholar
  9. Duvall D, Schuett GW, Arnold SJ (1993) Ecology and evolution of snake mating systems. In: Seigel RA, Collins JT (eds) Snakes: ecology and behavior. McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 165–200Google Scholar
  10. Fitch HS (1970) Reproductive cycles in lizards and snakes. Univ Kansas Mus Nat Hist Misc Publ 52:1–247Google Scholar
  11. Galvani A, Johnstone R (1998) Sperm allocation in an uncertain world. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 44:161–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gregory PT (1974) Patterns of spring emergence of the red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) in the Interlake region of Manitoba. Can J Zool 52:1063–1069Google Scholar
  13. Gregory PT (1977) Life-history parameters of the red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) in an extreme environment, the Interlake region of Manitoba. Nat Mus Can Publ Zool 13:1–44Google Scholar
  14. Gregory PT, Stewart KW (1975) Long-distance dispersal and feeding strategy of the red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) in the Interlake of Manitoba. Can J Zool 53:238–245Google Scholar
  15. Halpern M, Kubie JL (1984) The role of the ophidian vomeronasal system in species-typical behavior. Trends Neurosci 7:472–477Google Scholar
  16. Hawley AWL, Aleksiuk M (1976) Sexual receptivity in the female red-sided garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis). Copeia 1976:401–404Google Scholar
  17. LeMaster MP, Mason RT (2003) Evidence for a sex pheromone mediating mate choice in the red-sided garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis. J Chem Ecol (in press)Google Scholar
  18. LeMaster MP, Moore IT, Mason RT (2001) Conspecific trailing behavior of red-sided garter snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis, in the natural environment. Anim Behav 61:827–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Mason RT (1993) Chemical ecology of the red-sided garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis. Brain Behav Evol 41:261–268PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Naulleau G, Bonnet X (1996) Body condition threshold for breeding in a viviparous snake. Oecologia 107:301–306Google Scholar
  21. Olsson M (1993) Male preference for large females and assortative mating for body size in the sand lizard. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 32:337–341Google Scholar
  22. Panhuis TM, Butlin RK, Zuk M, Tregenza T (2001) Sexual selection and speciation. Trends Ecol Evol 16:364–371CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Rossman DA, Ford NB, Seigel RA (1996) The garter snakes: evolution and ecology. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OklahomaGoogle Scholar
  24. Sandler B, Nikonova L, Leal W, Clardy J (2000) Sexual attraction in the silkworm moth: structure of the pheromone-binding-protein-bombykol complex. Chem Biol 7:143–151PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Schwagmeyer PL, Parker GA (1990) Male mate choice as predicted by sperm competition in thirteen-lined ground squirrels. Nature 348:62–64Google Scholar
  26. Seigel RA, Ford NB (1987) Reproductive ecology. In: Seigel RA, Collins JT, Novak SS (eds) Snakes: ecology and evolutionary biology. Macmillan, New York, pp 210–252Google Scholar
  27. Shetty S, Shine R (2002) The mating system of yellow-lipped sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina, Laticaudinae). Herpetologica 58:170–180Google Scholar
  28. Shine R, Mason RT (2001) Courting male garter snakes use multiple cues to identify potential mates. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 49:465–473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Shine R, Olsson MM, Mason RT (2000a) Chastity belts in gartersnakes: the functional significance of mating plugs. Biol J Linn Soc 70:377–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Shine R, O'Connor D, Mason RT (2000b) Female mimicry in gartersnakes: behavioural tactics of "she-males" and the males that court them. Can J Zool 78:1391–1396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Shine R, Elphick MJ, Harlow PS, Moore IT, LeMaster MP, Mason RT (2001a) Movements, mating and dispersal of red-sided gartersnakes from a communal den in Manitoba. Copeia 2001:82–91Google Scholar
  32. Shine R, O'Connor D, LeMaster MP, Mason RT (2001b) Pick on someone your own size: ontogenetic shifts in mate choice by male garter snakes result in size-assortative mating. Anim Behav 61:1133–1141Google Scholar
  33. Tirindelli R, Mucignat-Caretta C, Ryba N (1998) Molecular aspects of pheromonal communication via the vomeronasal organ of mammals. Trends Neurosci 21:482–486.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Whittier JM, Mason RT, Crews D (1985) Mating in the red-sided gartersnake, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis: differential effects on male and female sexual behavior. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 16:257–261Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Shine
    • 1
  • B. Phillips
    • 1
  • H. Waye
    • 2
  • M. LeMaster
    • 2
  • R. T. Mason
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Biological Sciences A08University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Zoology DepartmentOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

Personalised recommendations