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Factors influencing the emergence of a northern population of Eastern Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus) from artificial hibernacula

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We investigated whether Eastern Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus (L., 1766)) use a rise in water level as a cue for emergence from hibernation. We also examined the hypotheses that snakes use temperature gradients or endogenous signals as emergence cues. Twelve artificial hibernacula were used to house 15 Ribbon Snakes. Water level and temperature were regulated. Four Ribbon Snakes emerged from hibernation without any manipulation of water level or temperature. Eight snakes emerged after thermal conditions in their hibernacula changed. Of these, one emerged after the hibernaculum was made warmer on the surface than at depth, four emerged after the room temperature was increased to 9 °C, and three emerged after incandescent lights were shone on the surface of each hibernaculum. Three snakes died during hibernation. Eight snakes chose to hibernate fully submerged in water. Although the sample size is too small to draw conclusions that are statistically significant at α = 0.05, our observations collectively suggest that Ribbon Snakes do not use a rise in water level as a cue to emerge. While water-level rise does not appear to be an emergence cue, hibernation below the water table may lead to increased survivorship by decreased metabolism and elimination of the risk of desiccation.

Nous cherchons à savoir si les couleuvres minces (Thamnophis sauritus (L., 1766)) utilisent l’élévation du niveau d’eau comme signal pour l’émergence de l’hibernation. Nous examinons aussi les hypothèses selon lesquelles les couleuvres utilisent des gradients thermiques ou des repères endogènes comme signaux d’émergence. Douze hibernacles artificiels ont servi à loger 15 couleuvres minces. Le niveau d’eau et la température y étaient contrôlés. Quatre couleuvres minces sont sorties d’hibernation sans aucune manipulation du niveau d’eau ni de la température. Huit couleuvres ont émergé après que les conditions thermiques de leur hibernacle eurent changé. Parmi celles-ci, une a émergé après que son hibernacle ait été réchauffé plus en surface qu’en profondeur, quatre après que la température de la pièce ait été élevée à 9 °C et trois après que la surface de leur habitacle ait été éclairé par des ampoules lumineuses incandescentes. Trois couleuvres sont mortes durant l’hibernation. Huit couleuvres ont choisi d’hiberner complètement submergées dans l’eau. Bien que l’échantillon soit trop petit pour en tirer des conclusions statistiquement significatives à α = 0,05, nos observations globales laissent croire que les couleuvres minces n’utilisent pas le niveau d’eau comme signal de l’émergence. Même si l’augmentation du niveau de l’eau ne semble pas être un signal pour l’émergence, l’hibernation sous le niveau de la nappe phréatique peut augmenter la survie en diminuant le métabolisme et en éliminant le risque de dessiccation.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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