Date of this Version
Siers, S.R., A.A. Yackel Adams, and R.N. Reed. 2018. Behavioral differences following ingestion of large meals and consequences for management of a harmful invasive snake: A field experiment.Ecology and Evolution 8(20):10075-10093. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4480
Many snakes are uniquely adapted to ingest large prey at infrequent intervals. Digestion of large prey is metabolically and aerobically costly, and large prey boluses can impair snake locomotion, increasing vulnerability to predation. Cessation of foraging and use of refugia with microclimates facilitating digestion are expected to be strategies employed by free-ranging snakes to cope with the demands of digestion while minimizing risk of predation. However, empirical observations of such submergent behavior from field experiments are limited. The brown treesnake (Serpentes: Colubridae: Boiga irregularis) is a nocturnal, arboreal, colubrid snake that was accidentally introduced to the island of Guam, with ecologically and economically costly consequences. Because tools for brown treesnake damage prevention generally rely on snakes being visible or responding to lures or baits while foraging, cessation of foraging activities after feeding would complicate management. We sought to characterize differences in brown treesnake activity, movement, habitat use, and detectability following feeding of large meals (rodents 33% of the snake’s unfed body mass) via radio telemetry, trapping, and visual surveys. Compared to unfed snakes, snakes in the feeding treatment group showed drastic decreases in hourly and nightly activity rates, differences in refuge height and microhabitat type, and a marked decrease in detectability by trapping and visual surveys. Depression of activity lasted approximately 5–7 days, a period that corresponds to previous studies of brown treesnake digestion and cycles of detectability. Our results indicate that management strategies for invasive brown treesnakes need to account for cycles of unavailability and underscore the importance of preventing spread of brown treesnakes to new environments where large prey are abundant and periods of cryptic behavior are likely to be frequent. Characterization of postfeeding behavior changes provides a richer understanding of snake ecology and foraging models for species that consume large prey.