Feeding strategies and diet patterns have been extensively investigated in vertebrates and, more specifically, in snakes. Although it has been hypothesized that prey species may differ in terms of energy content, almost no theoretical or practical study has been carried out to determine actual nutritional values of the common prey types of wild snakes. Our model taxa were a selection of widely distributed and well known European snake species, which have all been studied in depth: approximately 76% of their diet is composed of mammals, reptiles, and insects. We therefore selected a single model species for each of these categories and proceeded with the analyses. Nutritional values were determined using a standard procedure: lizards and mice were richer in proteins than insects (crickets); insects and mice were richer in lipids than lizards, and mice and crickets have a higher energy content than lizards; lizards were rich in ashes. We then applied our experimental results to a selected sample of European terrestrial snakes (11 populations, ten species, seven genera, two families) characterized by different body size (50–160 cm total length) and reproductive strategies (oviparous versus viviparous), aiming to correlate these parameters with patterns of energy income. A direct relationship was found between body mass/body length ratio (BCI, body condition index) and meal energetics: the higher the BCI, the higher was the metabolic requirement, whereas BCI was independent of species or of reproductive system effect. Large-sized snakes thus need a highly diversified and more energy-rich diet than smaller snakes, supporting previous hypotheses. The simple applicability of this method could be of valuable support in further comparative research work, reducing experimental costs and stimulating further ecological, behavioural, and, possibly, phylogenetic comparisons.

Adaptive significance of food income in European snakes: Body size is related to prey energetics

ZUFFI, MARCO ALBERTO LUCA;POLI, PIERA;MELE, MARCELLO
2010

Abstract

Feeding strategies and diet patterns have been extensively investigated in vertebrates and, more specifically, in snakes. Although it has been hypothesized that prey species may differ in terms of energy content, almost no theoretical or practical study has been carried out to determine actual nutritional values of the common prey types of wild snakes. Our model taxa were a selection of widely distributed and well known European snake species, which have all been studied in depth: approximately 76% of their diet is composed of mammals, reptiles, and insects. We therefore selected a single model species for each of these categories and proceeded with the analyses. Nutritional values were determined using a standard procedure: lizards and mice were richer in proteins than insects (crickets); insects and mice were richer in lipids than lizards, and mice and crickets have a higher energy content than lizards; lizards were rich in ashes. We then applied our experimental results to a selected sample of European terrestrial snakes (11 populations, ten species, seven genera, two families) characterized by different body size (50–160 cm total length) and reproductive strategies (oviparous versus viviparous), aiming to correlate these parameters with patterns of energy income. A direct relationship was found between body mass/body length ratio (BCI, body condition index) and meal energetics: the higher the BCI, the higher was the metabolic requirement, whereas BCI was independent of species or of reproductive system effect. Large-sized snakes thus need a highly diversified and more energy-rich diet than smaller snakes, supporting previous hypotheses. The simple applicability of this method could be of valuable support in further comparative research work, reducing experimental costs and stimulating further ecological, behavioural, and, possibly, phylogenetic comparisons.
Zuffi, MARCO ALBERTO LUCA; Fornasiero, Sara; Picchiotti, Riccardo; Poli, Piera; Mele, Marcello
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11568/752148
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