Georgia Journal of Science
BEHAVIORAL CORRELATES OF OVERWINTERING SITE SELECTION IN A SOUTHEASTERN POPULATION OF TIMBER RATTLESNAKES (CROTALUS HORRIDUS)**
Studies of temperate snake behavioral ecology are historically focused on the active season. However, behavior during the winter inactive period also carries significant fitness consequences, as populations are under strong selective pressure to select optimal shelter sites that minimize the costs of low temperatures and prolonged inactivity. This importance of overwintering site selection is well illustrated by the widespread documentation of large communal dens in northern species and populations. However, comparatively little systematic research exists for overwintering behavior at more southern temperate latitudes, despite winter in these regions presenting snakes with the same selective pressures, albeit moderated in intensity. Temperate species that occur across wide latitudinal gradients can therefore serve as ideal models for exploring variability in winter behavior and ecology across different selection regimes. Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) are one such example, as the majority of inactive season research is conducted on northern and montane populations for which communal denning is common. We aim to capitalize on a unique southeastern population of C. horridus from the lower Piedmont of Georgia, USA, wherein solitary and communal overwintering site use are observed at comparable frequencies. We will use a novel combination of remote videography, radio telemetry, and accelerometry to evaluate associations between winter shelter type and rattlesnake behavior from two perspectives: 1) migratory distance (radio telemetry) to overwintering site and 2) basking frequency (remote videography) and activity level (accelerometry) during the overwintering periods (November-April) in 2022 and 2023. Our aim is to explore the relative behavioral trade-offs associated with communal and solitary overwintering strategies in this population, and when combined with ongoing monitoring of body mass loss and Opidiomyces ophidiicola (“Snake Fungal Disease”) infection prevalence in this system, we intend to provide a comprehensive framework for evaluating the causes and consequences of variability in overwintering site selection in temperate snake populations.
Powers, John R. and Desantis, Dominic L.
"BEHAVIORAL CORRELATES OF OVERWINTERING SITE SELECTION IN A SOUTHEASTERN POPULATION OF TIMBER RATTLESNAKES (CROTALUS HORRIDUS)**,"
Georgia Journal of Science, Vol. 81, No. 1, Article 29.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.gaacademy.org/gjs/vol81/iss1/29