Richard SA, Tillman EA, Humphrey JS, Avery ML, Parker MR (2019). Male Burmese pythons follow female scent trails and show sex-specific behaviors. Integrative Zoology 14, 460–9.
Animals communicate with potential mates using species-specific signals, and pheromones are powerful sexual signals that modify conspecific behavior to facilitate mate location. Among the vertebrates, snakes are especially adept in mate searching via chemical trailing, which is particularly relevant given that many snake species are invasive outside their native ranges. Chemical signals used in mate choice are, thus, potentially valuable tools for management of invasive snake species. The Burmese python (Python bivittatus) is an invasive snake in the Florida Everglades where it is negatively impacting native fauna. In this study, we sought to: (i) determine if males can follow conspecific chemical trails in a Y-maze; and (ii) describe the mate searching behaviors exhibited by males while trailing. All males consistently followed a single female scent trail in the maze, but when only a male scent trail was present they did not discriminate between the male and blank arms. Rate of tongue-flicking, a proxy for chemosensory sampling, was also marginally higher when males were following female versus male scent trails. However, when both female and male scent trails were simultaneously present in the Y-maze, males did not show a preference for the female arm, although the tongue-flick rate was higher in the female-only trial compared to female versus male. Analyses of multiple male behaviors individually and using an ethogram revealed that behaviors were more frequent and complex in the female-only trials compared to male-only trials. Additional behavioral trials are needed to determine if an effective pheromonal approach to Burmese python management is possible.
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