Determinants of reproductive success in female adders, Vipera berus

Thomas Madsen*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Female lifetime reproductive success in a small population of individually-marked adders in southern Sweden was studied over a period of seven years. Reproductive characteristics varied little from year to year and were consistent through time in individual females. Most females mature at four years of age and reproduce every two years. The total number of offspring produced by a female depends on her adult body size (and thus, litter size) and longevity (and thus, number of litters per lifetime). Adult body size in females is influenced mainly by subadult growth rates. Offspring size depends on maternal body size and a tradeoff between offspring size and offspring number. Maternal age does not affect litter sizes and offspring sizes except through ontogenetic changes in maternal body size. 

Survival of females after parturition is low because of the high energy costs of reproduction, compounded by low feeding rates of gravid females because of their sedentary behaviour at this time. About one-half of females produce only a single litter during their lifetimes, although some females live to produce four or five litters. On a proximate basis, rates of energy accumulation for growth (in subadults) and reproduction (in adults) may be the most important determinants of fitness in female adders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-47
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Fecundity
  • Growth
  • Natural selection
  • Reproduction
  • Snake


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