Short and chubby or long and slim?

Food intake, growth and body condition in free-ranging pythons

Thomas Madsen, Richard Shine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

41 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

An animal's sex and body size can influence not only its rate of food consumption, but also the way in which it allocates the resultant energy among the competing demands of maintenance, growth, reproduction and storage. A 13-year mark-recapture study of pythons (Liasis fuscus) in tropical Australia provides extensive data on these topics. Rates of food intake and growth were highest in small pythons, and decreased more rapidly with body size in males than in females. Allocation to storage (as measured by the snake's mass relative to its body length) showed a more complex pattern. Body condition was high at hatching, but dropped rapidly as energy was allocated to growth rather than storage. Condition then increased through juvenile life, was at a maximum close to maturation, and was higher in females than in conspecific males. Body condition thereafter decreased with increasing body length. These allocation 'decisions' reflect the relative advantages of growth versus energy storage at different body sizes. Hatchling snakes grow rapidly (and hence become thin) because greater body size enables the snake to ingest larger prey items. Adult females amass larger energy reserves than males, because they need reserves to produce the clutch. Large snakes become thinner because their feeding rates are low, and they cannot compensate with increased prey size because large-bodied mammalian prey are rare in our study area.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)672-680
Number of pages9
JournalAustral Ecology
Volume27
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2002
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Energy allocation
  • Liasis fuscus
  • Life-history
  • Pythonidae
  • Snake

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