Hot rocks and not-so-hot rocks: retreat-site selection by garter snakes and its thermal consequences

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Hot rocks and not-so-hot rocks: retreat-site selection by garter snakes and its thermal consequences

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Title: Hot rocks and not-so-hot rocks: retreat-site selection by garter snakes and its thermal consequences
Author: Huey, Raymond B.; Peterson, Charles R.; Arnold, Stevan J.; Porter, Warren P.
Abstract: Studies of behavioral thermoregulation of ectotherms have typically focused only on active animals. However, most temperate-zone ectotherms actually spend more time sequestered in retreats (e.g., under rocks) than active above ground. We documented retreat-site selection during summer by gravid garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans) at Eagle Lake in northeastern California, USA. To explore the thermal consequences of retreat-site selection, we measured potential body temperatures in retreats and combined these with data on thermal tolerances, thermal preferences, and thermal dependence of metabolism and digestion. Garter snakes at Eagle Lake usually retreated under rocks of intermediate thickness (20-30 cm) even though both thinner and thicker rocks were available. Empirical and biophysical analyses of temperatures under rocks of various sizes and shapes demonstrated that rock thickness had the dominate effect on potential Tb available to snakes and in turn on thermal physiology. Snakes selecting thin rocks (<20 cm thick) or very shallow burrows would die of heat stress in midafternoon and would have strongly impaired physiological capacity from cold at night. Snakes selecting very thick rocks (>40 cm thick) or remaining at the bottom of deep burrows would not experience such extreme Tb, but neither would they warm to Tb in their preferred range. However, snakes selecting intermediate-thickness rocks would not overheat but would achieve preferred Tb for long periods – far longer than if they remained on the ground surface or moved up and down within a burrow. Interestingly, snakes selecting burrows or intermediate-thickness rocks may be able to have either the highest energy gain or the lowest overall metabolic rate, depending on the particular Tb they select. Medium-thickness rocks, the size normally selected by the snakes, offer them a variety of suitable thermoregulatory opportunites.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/2018

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