SREL Reprint #3267




Time in captivity affects foraging behavior of ratsnakes: implications for translocation

Brett A. DeGregorio1,2, Patrick. J. Weatherhead1, Tracey D. Tuberville2, and Jinelle H. Sperry1,3

1Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University
of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, 1102 S. Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA
2University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Lab, Drawer E, Aiken, South Carolina, 29802, USA
3Engineer Research and Development Center, 2902 Newmark Drive, Champaign, Illinois 61826, USA

Abstract: As wildlife populations decline or disappear, wildlife professionals are using management tools such as translocation to maintain viable populations, often with mixed results. Wild-to-wild translocations are often more successful than when captive animals are released, raising concerns that captivity may have deleterious effects on animals. Although the effects of captivity have been documented on a generational time-scale, effects within the lifetime of an individual have received much less attention. Here we examine how time in captivity affects foraging behavior of wild-caught ratsnakes (Elaphe obsoleta). The longer ratsnakes had been in captivity, the less successful and slower they were to react to prey in a simple laboratory discrimination task. Snakes that had been captive for a year or more performed no better than expected by chance. Captivity-induced degradation of ecologically important behaviors provides a potential mechanism underlying the poor performance of animals that are released into the wild following prolonged captivity. Our results also suggest that research using captive snakes may not always document behaviors representative of wild snakes.

Keywords: conservation; Elaphe obsoleta; prey detection; reintroduction; repatriation; snakes

SREL Reprint #3267

DeGregorio, B. A., P. J. Weatherhead, T. D. Tuberville, and J. H. Sperry. 2013. Time in captivity affects foraging behavior of ratsnakes: implications for translocation. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 8(3): 581-590.

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