Date of Award

8-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Major Professor

Gordon M. Burghardt,

Committee Members

James A. Fordyce, Todd M. Freeberg, Neil Greenberg, Nathan J. Sanders

Abstract

Predators use a variety of tactics with which to obtain prey. Here, I describe lingual luring by the mangrove saltmarsh snake (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda), a somewhat unique behavior that involves the use of the tongue to attract fish prey close enough to permit their capture. The lure is characterized by considerable upward curling of the distal portion of the tongue as it protrudes from the mouth. In addition, luring tongue flicks are significantly greater in duration than chemosensory tongue flicks. Both visual and chemical cues are sufficient to stimulate lingual luring, the latter more so than the former. However, both types of cues together have a strong synergistic effect on elicitation of the behavior. Luring behavior presents primarily a visual stimulus, as its frequency was reduced in the dark. Although prey density had no effect on the exhibition of luring by these snakes, prey density did have an effect on their activity level and their choice of foraging sites. N. c. compressicauda was a fairly active forager under the conditions tested in these studies, but its use of a largely sit-and-wait tactic such as predatory luring indicates that this species uses more of a mixed foraging strategy. The foraging behavior of the snakes differed at different levels of habitat structural density, created by using simulated prop roots in a laboratory arena. When no prop-root structure was present, the snakes rarely ventured into open water. However, they spent significantly more time in the water if prop roots were present. Such habitat structure may serve as protection from larger predators that may be impeded by it.

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