Strong Response to Anuran Chemical Cues by an Extreme Dietary Specialist, the Eastern Hognose Snake Heterodon platirhinos

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Canadian Journal of Zoology





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Squamate reptiles use the lingual–vomeronasal system to identify food using only chemical cues. In lizards, most of which are dietary generalists that consume a wide variety of arthropods and other small animals, correlated evolution has occurred between addition of plants to the diet and responsiveness to plant chemical cues. In snakes, many of which are dietary specialists, several studies have detected differences in response strength among populations that correspond to the importance of prey types in different geographic locations. In one species of Thamnophis Fitzinger, 1843, such variation in responsiveness has been demonstrated to have a genetic basis. We studied tongue-flicking and biting responses to chemical cues from a range of potential prey types by nine ingestively naive hatchlings of the eastern hog-nosed snake (Heterodon platirhinos Latreille in Sonnini and Latreille, 1801), which is an extreme toad specialist that less frequently eats other anurans. The snakes responded most strongly to chemical cues from the southern toad (Bufo terrestris (Bonnaterre, 1789)), as indicated by significantly greater tongue-flick rate. Only two individuals bit in response to chemicals cues, both to the toad cues. Elevated tongue-flick rates were also elicited by chemical cues from the green frog (Rana clamitans Latreille in Sonnini de Manoncourt and Latreille, 1801), but the mean rate for frog cues was less than for toad cues. Responses to other potential prey types did not differ from those of the control stimuli. Our findings are consistent with those of several other investigators in showing close correspondence between the inclusion and importance of dietary items and the intensity of chemosensory investigation in snakes. Studies of diverse dietary specialists are needed to establish the generality of this relationship in snakes and to demonstrate that diet and chemosensory responses to food cues coevolve


response, anuran, chemical, cues, dietary specialist, hognose snake, Heterodon platirhinos, herpetology, biology


Medical Sciences



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