Grass snakes exploit anthropogenic heat sources to overcome distributional limits imposed by oviparity

Kristin Löwenborg, Richard Shine, Simon Kärvemo, Mattias Hagman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)


A lack of warm nest-sites prevents oviparous reptile species from reproducing in cool climates; such areas are dominated by viviparous species because sun-seeking pregnant females can maintain high temperatures for their developing offspring. Our field and laboratory studies show that one oviparous species (the grass snake, Natrix natrix) escapes this cold-climate constraint (and hence, extends much further north in Europe than do other oviparous taxa) by ovipositing in a thermally distinctive man-made microhabitat (manure heaps on farms). In the field, temperatures inside manure heaps averaged 30·7 °C, much higher than compost heaps (20·6 °C) or potential natural nest-sites under logs and rocks (15·5 °C). In the laboratory, higher incubation temperatures not only hastened hatching, but also increased hatching success and modified the body sizes, colours, and locomotor abilities of hatchlings. Incubation temperatures typical of manure heaps (rather than alternative nest-sites) resulted in larger, faster offspring that hatched earlier in the season. Thus, anthropogenic activities have generated potential nest-sites offering thermal regimes not naturally available in the region; and grass snakes have exploited that opportunity to escape the thermal limits that restrict geographic distributions of other oviparous reptile taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1095-1102
Number of pages8
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • geographic distribution
  • maternal manipulation hypothesis
  • natricine
  • reproductive mode
  • thermoregulation
  • viviparity


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