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The Foraging Ecology of the Gray Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides). I. Influence of Habitat Structural Complexity When Searching for Mammalian Prey

Stephen J. Mullin and William H. N. Gutzke
Herpetologica
Vol. 55, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 18-28
Published by: Allen Press on behalf of the Herpetologists' League
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3893065
Page Count: 11
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Foraging Ecology of the Gray Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides). I. Influence of Habitat Structural Complexity When Searching for Mammalian Prey
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Abstract

The habitat in which a predator experiences the highest level of foraging success may depend on the complexity of the structure within that habitat. Visual perception of prey may increase in an open habitat where structure is absent, whereas a predator's crypsis in an ambush posture may increase in a highly complex habitat. We examined the effect of variation in habitat structural complexity on the predatory success of the semi-arboreal snake Elaphe obsoleta spiloides foraging for small mammals (Mus domesticus). Individual snakes searched for mice in large enclosures containing one of five levels of vegetation density. Latency to prey capture and snake behaviors were recorded on video tape for each foraging episode. Gray rat snakes were least proficient at capturing prey in enclosures devoid of vegetation, but latency to prey capture was not reliably affected by variation in the density of vegetation within the enclosures. Subjects spent over 95% of foraging time performing 10 of the 20 described behaviors; three behaviors occurred more often than the other seven regardless of variation in structural complexity of habitat. Experimental manipulation of structural complexity within simulated habitats did not influence predatory success or behavioral expression in gray rat snakes foraging for small rodents.

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