Conflicts between courtship and thermoregulation: the thermal ecology of amorous male garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietallis, Colubridae)

R. Shine*, P. S. Harlow, M. J. Elphick, M. M. Olsson, R. T. Mason

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Thermoregulatory behavior is an important component of daily activities for many reptiles, especially for small heliothermic (sun-basking) species that inhabit cold climates. However, the relative costs and benefits of thermoregulation depend on numerous factors, such that reptiles may sometimes accord a low priority to precise control of body temperatures. We observed and radio tracked garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) in central Manitoba during the mating season (spring). Previous studies on this species have documented precise behavioral regulation of body temperatures during summer. In contrast, the courting snakes that we studied in springtime spent little time in overt thermoregulatory behavior. Body temperatures were extremely variable (both in outdoor enclosures and in the field) despite abundant opportunities for more precise thermal control. These small elongate reptiles cool so quickly (relative to the time periods needed for effective courtship) that any benefit to higher body temperatures would be transitory at best. Experiments show that hotter males are no better at obtaining matings or at detecting predators. Thus, male garter snakes concentrate on courtship rather than on basking. In the face of conflicting priorities, reptiles may often forgo precise thermoregulation because its benefits are too low, and its costs too high, compared with alternative behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)508-516
Number of pages9
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2000
Externally publishedYes

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