Sublethal costs associated with the consumption of toxic prey by snakes

John S. Llewelyn, Benjamin L. Phillips, Richard Shine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)


Costs of plant defences to herbivores have been extensively studied, but costs of chemical defences to carnivores are less well understood. We examine the costs to Australian keelback snakes (Tropidonophis mairii, Gray 1841) of consuming cane toads (Bufo [Rhinella] marinus Linnaeus 1758). Cane toads (an invasive species in Australia) are highly toxic. Although keelbacks can consume toads without dying (unlike most Australian snakes), we show that cane toads are poor quality prey for keelbacks. Toads are of low net nutritional value, take longer to consume than do native frogs and reduce the snake's locomotor performance for up to 6 h after ingestion of a meal. These latter effects may increase a snake's vulnerability to predation. Nutritional content of vertebrate prey is not the only factor driving the evolution of foraging behaviour; other more subtle costs, such as risk of predation, may be widespread.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-184
Number of pages6
JournalAustral Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • anuran
  • fitness
  • invasive species
  • optimal foraging
  • prey choice


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