Phenotypic basis for a feeding change in an insular population of garter snakes

TitlePhenotypic basis for a feeding change in an insular population of garter snakes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1984
AuthorsGreenwell MG, Hall M, Sexton OJ
JournalDevelopmental psychobiology
Volume17
Issue5
Pagination457-463
KeywordsTHAMNOPHIS
Abstract

Predation of birds, an unusual behavior for the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), has been observed and documented in an insular garter snake population. Feeding preference tests were performed on naive neonatal snakes and experienced adults from both the island test population and a nearby mainland control population. No significant preference for birds as a prey item was found for either neonates or adults from either population. Therefore, neither a genetic nor an ontogenetic basis for the observed behavior was demonstrable. Birds tainted with a piscine odor, however, elicited a positive feeding response from adult snakes from both geographical sources. We propose that the observed behavior in the field is a result of learning to exploit an abundant, readily available resource already in the predator's repertoire.