Reproductive strategies in snakes

Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

227 Citations (Scopus)


Snakes of both sexes display remarkable flexibility and diversity in their reproductive tactics. Many features of reproduction in female snakes (such as reproductive mode and frequency, seasonality and multiple mating) allow flexible maternal control. For example, females can manipulate not only the genotypes of their offspring (through mate choice or enhanced sperm competition) but also the phenotypes of their offspring (through allocation 'decisions', behavioural and physiological thermoregulation, and nest-site selection). Reliance on stored energy ('capital') to fuel breeding results in low frequencies of female reproduction and, in extreme cases, semelparity. A sophisticated vomeronasal system not only allows male snakes to locate reproductive females by following scent trails, but also facilitates pheromonally mediated mate choice by males. Male-male rivalry takes diverse forms, including female mimicry and mate guarding; combat bouts impose strong selection for large body size in males of some species. Intraspecific (geographical) variation and phenotypic plasticity in a wide array of reproductive traits (offspring size and number; reproductive frequency; incidence of multiple mating; male tactics such as mate guarding and combat; mate choice criteria) provide exceptional opportunities for future studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)995-1004
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1519
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Life history
  • Reproduction
  • Reptile
  • Serpentes
  • Sexual selection


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