Causes and consequences of aggregation by neonatal tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus, Elapidae)

Fabien Aubret*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Although snakes traditionally have been regarded as asocial animals, recent studies have revealed complex interactions among neonatal snakes and their mothers. We noticed frequent aggregation by captive neonatal Australian elapids (tiger snakes, Notechis scutatus), and conducted simple experiments to clarify the proximate causation of, and potential consequences of, aggregative behaviour. Litters of neonates exhibited statistically significant aggregation (clustering) in empty containers, especially if the test area was subjected to rapid cooling. Aggregation was most pronounced inside shelter-sites, and familiar shelters (i.e. containing scent cues from the litter) attracted snakes more than did novel (unscented) shelters. Snakes in larger aggregations cooled more slowly (reflecting their higher combined mass and thus, thermal inertia) and higher body temperatures facilitated neonatal locomotor performance, retreat-site location and anti-predator tactics. Plausibly, aggregation in neonatal tiger snakes (and other reptiles) functions to retard cooling rates, with the result that the young snakes are better able to evade or repel attacks by predators.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)210-217
Number of pages8
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume34
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • aggregation
  • snake
  • sociality
  • temperature
  • thermoregulation

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