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Digestive performance in neonatal Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus helleri)

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Abstract:

Despite significant research on the metabolic characteristics of digestion in adult snakes, the digestive performance of neonatal snakes is poorly characterized. We examined the energetic costs associated with digestion and the energetic profit derived from the first meal eaten by neonatal Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus helleri Meek, 1905). Composition of venom of C. o. helleri changes through ontogeny, becoming richer in proteolytic components that are hypothesized by some to enhance the rate of digestion. Therefore, we also investigated whether venom type (proteolytic-component-rich “adult” versus neurotoxin-rich “neonate” venom) affected digestive performance. We examined specific dynamic action (SDA), apparent assimilation efficiency, rate of digestion, and gut passage time in snakes fed prey killed with either “adult” or “neonate” venom at 22 and 30 °C. Although digestion progressed more quickly at 30 °C compared with 22 °C, there were no significant differences in digestion rate or assimilation efficiency owing to venom type; however, our statistical power was limited by small sample size. Despite the lack of “digestive experience”, the apparent assimilation efficiency was remarkably high (mean of 92%) and greater than published values for Crotalinae species. Based on these results, we hypothesize that neonatal C. o. helleri make a big energetic profit from their first meal by digesting efficiently and economically.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z11-034

Publication date: August 30, 2011

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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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