Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sneaky Snake Survival

As ectotherms, snakes have a lot of difficulty regulating their temperature in cold environments. They must carefully balance their time between thermoregulation and hunting, and to a lesser extent mate searching. The type of hunting a snake uses has a large impact on this tradeoff; snakes can either forage and search for their food, or sit and wait in ambush for food to come to them. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois, this tradeoff was examined. The focus was Massasauga rattlers, an ambush hunter. The populations examined were at the northernmost borders of their habitat in British Columbia. The snakes were implanted with transmitters to gather location and temperature data, which was later compared to existing data on Ratsnakes and Watersnakes (both forage predators). Intuitively, it makes sense that the ambush predators would be able to thermoregulate the best. They can find somewhere comfortable to set up their trap, whereas hunters have to move through various inopportune environments (especially Watersnakes, which swim through cold Canadian water). The results complied with this hypothesis. It was found that Massasaugas were much more efficient thermoregulators, despite having a higher preferred temperature and living in poorer thermal environments.

Rhys Ursuliak (3)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Snakes are so interesting. I can't imagine having to worry about preserving my body temperature and further than putting on a jacket on a cold day. It makes sense that the Massasaugas would have a higher preferred temperature because they actually have the opportunity to attain that temperature whereas, as you said, the foraging and water snakes have to continually move around and adjust their temperature. Interesting article.

    Posted By Erica Bonnell(1)

  3. Interesting post. I love these examples of adaptation. I wonder if this species is doing particularly well (i.e., if this design is a winning model)? It seems in such a harsh environment a snake species that is able to adapt will carve a nice niche out for itself.

    - William Mohn (2)

  4. Do these snakes have a harder time finding prey? Or do they get food just as easily? It would seem to me that the one who hunts would have better luck, but trade offs are everything. If they can't survive due to environmental conditions, then it looks like the Massasaugas have the right idea.

    Taylor Pirog (2)

  5. This is very interesting, and yet another example of adaptive evolution at work. Like William said, I am interested to know if there is a difference between the success of each method, and if those that have the better thermoregulation ability and are ambush predators are doing particularly better than the hunters who have to move around. Its weird to think that there are many species who have to worry about their own body heat, and we take for granted that it is just automatically controlled.

    Posted by Laura Moro (2)

  6. I like this blog. It interesting ot see how different animals deal with biological limitations.
    I wonder if there is a correlation between average temperature of an area, and the kind of snakes found in that area. Would warmer areas have more hunters (since thermoregulation would be less of a problem in those places).

    Posted by Joseph Frimpong

  7. Hypothesis Testing
    Define Hypothesis, what is Hypothesis? Define Hypothesis Testing, null Hypothesis,

  8. great article. I have a few questions though. what is the effect if foraging snakes aren't able to regulate their temperatures as well as the ambush snakes? and what is the benefit? Is there an impact on their life span, number of eggs they lay, their size, etc?

    -Hermann Kam

  9. Something that I find extremely interesting is how both cold blooded and warm blooded animals evolved in the same environments. Both systems have such different means of supporting life but both are completely viable. Earth and evolution in general is really fascinating.

    Mike Selden (3)