Fat is sexy for females but not males: the influence of body reserves on reproduction in snakes (Vipera aspis)

Fabien Aubret, Xavier Bonnet*, Richard Shine, Olivier Lourdais

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Reproduction is energetically expensive for both sexes, but the magnitude of expenditure and its relationship to reproductive success differ fundamentally between males and females. Males allocate relatively little to gamete production and, thus, can reproduce successfully with only minor energy investment. In contrast, females of many species experience high fecundity-independent costs of reproduction (such as migration to nesting sites), so they need to amass substantial energy reserves before initiating reproductive activity. Thus, we expect that the relationship between energy reserves and the intensity of reproductive behavior involves a threshold effect in females, but a gradual (or no) effect in males. We tested this prediction using captive vipers (Vipera aspis), dividing both males and females into groups of high versus low body condition. Snakes from each group were placed together and observed for reproductive behavior; sex-steroid levels were also measured. As predicted, females in below-average body condition had very low estradiol levels and did not show sexual receptivity, whereas males of all body condition indices had significant testosterone levels and displayed active courtship. Testosterone levels and courtship intensity increased gradually (i.e., no step function) with body condition in males, but high estradiol levels and sexual receptivity were seen only in females with body reserves above a critical threshold.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-147
Number of pages13
JournalHormones and Behavior
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Capital breeding
  • Hormones
  • Sexual behaviors
  • Snakes
  • Threshold
  • Vipera


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