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Territorial behavior in Taiwanese kukrisnakes (Oligodon formosanus).

Authors
  • Huang, Wen-San
  • Greene, Harry W
  • Chang, Tien-Jye
  • Shine, Richard
Type
Published Article
Journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Publisher
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Publication Date
May 03, 2011
Volume
108
Issue
18
Pages
7455–7459
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1101804108
PMID: 21502515
Source
Medline
License
Unknown

Abstract

The independent evolutionary origin of a complex trait, within a lineage otherwise lacking it, provides a powerful opportunity to test hypotheses on selective forces. Territorial defense of an area containing resources (such as food or shelter) is widespread in lizards but not snakes. Our studies on an insular population of Taiwanese kukrisnakes (Oligodon formosanus) show that females of this species actively defend sea turtle nests by repelling conspecifics for long periods (weeks) until the turtle eggs hatch or are consumed. A clutch of turtle eggs comprises a large, long-lasting food resource, unlike the prey types exploited by other types of snakes. Snakes of this species have formidable weaponry (massively enlarged teeth that are used for slitting eggshells), and when threatened, these snakes wave their tails toward the aggressor (an apparent case of head-tail mimicry). Bites to the tail during intraspecific combat bouts thus can have high fitness costs for males (because the hemipenes are housed in the tail). In combination, unusual features of the species (ability to inflict severe damage to male conspecifics) and the local environment (a persistent prey resource, large relative to the snakes consuming it) render resource defense both feasible and advantageous for female kukrisnakes. The (apparently unique) evolution of territorial behavior in this snake species thus provides strong support for the hypothesis that resource defensibility is critical to the evolution of territoriality.

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