Thursday, August 29, 2013

Social female copperheads found to be non-kin

Recent observations suggest snakes may be far more social than previously thought, including the ability to recognize and group with kin, and provide parental care (defense) for young. Inclusive fitness theory predicts that benefits of such groupings should be greater when groups are composed of related individuals. Although the ability required to recognize kin under this theory has been observed in a wide range of vertebrates, it has only recently been reported in snakes. Li et al. (2013) tested competing hypotheses for aggregation behavior in female neonate copperhead snakes, female aggregations are common in nature; male aggregations have not been observed.  They asked is (1) aggregation is mediated by genetic relatedness, or is (2) aggregation is mediated by familiarity, i.e. learned. The authors found no effect of learning on neonate aggregation. With regard to relatedness, contrary to  expectation they found  unrelated individuals tended to aggregate more than related individuals. The authors suggest that the lack of aggregation behavior in related individuals may be due to selection for dispersal and/or reduced effects of predation or disease.

Li M., Moeller JF,  Smith CF. (2013). Family and Friends: What Factors Influence Aggregation in Female Copperhead Snakes?. Lander University 9: 15-9: 27.

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