Do female garter snakes evade males to avoid harassment or to enhance mate quality?

Richard Shine*, Michael Wall, Tracy Langkilde, Robert T. Mason

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Females of many species behave in ways that make it difficult for males to locate, court, and inseminate them. Two hypotheses have been advanced to explain such behavior: either a female thereby minimizes costs of harassment (sexual conflict model) or by playing "hard to get" she discourages inferior suitors (indirect mate choice model). Our studies of garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) at a communal den in Manitoba support an interpretation of sexual conflict rather than indirect mate choice. Female snakes dispersed rapidly from the den through areas with relatively few males rather than waiting for additional courtship. Many females dispersed without mating. Experimental (pheromonal) manipulation of the intensity of courtship accelerated rates of female dispersal rather than delaying dispersal, as would be predicted if females wait to obtain matings. The behaviors of females escaping from courting groups were maximally effective in losing their suitors regardless of the number of courting males or whether or not the female was capable of mating (recently mated females cannot mate again because of a mating plug). In total, our data are most consistent with the hypothesis that female garter snakes at communal dens evade males to escape harassment rather than to enhance mate quality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)660-668
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Dispersal
  • Mate choice
  • Mating system
  • Sexual conflict
  • Sexual selection


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