Do lizards and snakes really differ in their ability to take large prey?

A study of relative prey mass and feeding tactics in lizards

Richard Shine*, Jai Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Adaptations of snakes to overpower and ingest relatively large prey have attracted considerable research, whereas lizards generally are regarded as unable to subdue or ingest such large prey items. Our data challenge this assumption. On morphological grounds, most lizards lack the highly kinetic skulls that facilitate prey ingestion in macrostomate snakes, but (1) are capable of reducing large items into ingestible-sized pieces, and (2) have much larger heads relative to body length than do snakes. Thus, maximum ingestible prey size might be as high in some lizards as in snakes. Also, the willingness of lizards to tackle very large prey items may have been underestimated. Captive hatchling scincid lizards (Bassiana duperreyi) offered crickets of a range of relative prey masses (RPMs) attacked (and sometimes consumed parts of) crickets as large as or larger than their own body mass. RPM affected foraging responses: larger crickets were less likely to be attacked (especially on the abdomen), more likely to be avoided, and less likely to provide significant nutritional benefit to the predator. Nonetheless, lizards successfully attacked and consumed most crickets ≤ 35% of the predator's own body mass, representing RPM as high as for most prey taken by snakes. Thus, although lizards lack the impressive cranial kinesis or prey-subduction adaptations of snakes, at least some lizards are capable of overpowering and ingesting prey items as large as those consumed by snakes of similar body sizes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)492-498
Number of pages7
JournalOecologia
Volume144
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2005
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Foraging
  • Reptile
  • Snake
  • Trophic

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