Comparative energetics and thermal responses to feeding in allied Agkistrodon snakes with contrasting diet and habitat use.J Comp Physiol B. 2020 May; 190(3):329-339.JC
Variation in animal responses to feeding can be attributed to a variety of ecological factors, including foraging mode and dietary specialization. Specialization often favors species that have traits for exploiting food resources that are rare and that are not commonly shared by dietary generalists. We investigated physiological and behavioral responses to feeding between two snake species with different degrees of mammal feeding specialization: Agkistrodon contortrix (copperheads; a terrestrial species in which adults feed almost exclusively on mammals) and Agkistrodon piscivorus (cottonmouths; a semi-aquatic species feeding less on mammals and primarily on ectothermic prey). We measured metabolic rates (at 20, 25, and 30 °C) and body temperature (Tb) selection of snakes both pre- and post-feeding. Following the consumption of rodent meals, post-feeding energy use was higher in A. piscivorus than A. contortrix at both 25 and 30 °C. After feeding, A. piscivorus maintained body temperatures that were 3-4 °C higher, whereas A. contortrix remained within 1 °C of their pre-feeding Tb. Our results support the contention that dietary specialization leads to potential energetic advantages and that generalist species may change their behavior to offset energy used to digest prey.