Sexual size dimorphism and male combat in snakes

Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

201 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reviews published literature on snakes to test the hypothesis that large male size, relative to female size, evolves because of the advantage it confers in male combat. Analysis of the data reveals a high correlation between the occurrence of male combat, and sexual dimorphism in which the male is the larger sex. This correlation holds (i) within the total sample of snake species (n=224), (ii) within the family Colubridae (n=134), and (iii) in a comparison between the eight families of snakes for which data are available. These results strongly support the hypothesis that large male size is an adaptation to intrasexual competition. The analysis also shows that females are larger than males in about 66% of snake species, that male combat is known in only about 15% of species, and that both sexual size dimorphism and the incidence of male combat tend to be distributed along taxonomic lines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-277
Number of pages9
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1978
Externally publishedYes


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