Life history attributes of the threatened Australian snake (Stephen's banded snake Hoplocephalus stephensii, Elapidae)

Mark Fitzgerald, Richard Shine*, Francis Lemckert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Whether or not a species is threatened by habitat change is influenced by its life-history traits as well as by the nature and severity of the threatening process. Detailed studies of declining taxa can clarify reasons for their vulnerability, both in proximate terms (e.g., taxa with slow growth, delayed maturation, low fecundity and infrequent reproduction will be poorly suited to withstand increases in adult mortality rates) and in an evolutionary perspective (i.e., what attributes of the environment have favoured the evolution of certain life history traits?). We obtained data on life history traits during an intensive radio-tracking study on the threatened arboreal elapid snake Hoplocephalus stephensii from forest habitats of eastern Australia. Based on 39 field-collected specimens, these long, slender snakes (mean adult snout-vent length 73 cm, mass 114 g) feed predominantly on mammalian prey such as Bush Rats (Rattus fuscipes) and Pygmy-possums (Cercartetus nanus); but juveniles also take lizards. Foraging modes are diverse, from active searching through to ambush. Gape-limitation prevents snakes from ingesting adults of the most abundant local rodent (R. fuscipes), limiting the snakes to specialise on sub-adult rats which are only seasonally available. Rates of feeding, growth and reproduction are low; for example, none of 21 wild-caught females was reproductive. However, snakes given access to abundant prey in captivity, rapidly gained in body condition, grew significantly, and subsequently reproduced. Litters consisted of a few (1-9), relatively large (25 cm snout-vent length, 7.5 g) offspring. The "slow" life-history traits that have contributed to endangerment of this taxon may include proximate as well as evolutionary responses to the low temperatures and limited prey availability in the forest habitat of H. stephensii.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-128
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Threatened Australian snake
  • Slow growth
  • Low reproductive rate
  • Prey specialisation
  • Hoplocephalus stephensii


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