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Clutch may predict growth of hatchling Burmese pythons better than food availability or sex

November 19, 2021

Identifying which environmental and genetic factors affect growth pattern phenotypes can help biologists predict how organisms distribute finite energy resources in response to varying environmental conditions and physiological states. This information may be useful for monitoring and managing populations of cryptic, endangered, and invasive species. Consequently, we assessed the effects of food availability, clutch, and sex on the growth of invasive Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus Kuhl) from the Greater Everglades Ecosystem in Florida, USA. Though little is known from the wild, Burmese pythons have been physiological model organisms for decades, with most experimental research sourcing individuals from the pet trade. Here, we used 60 hatchlings collected as eggs from the nests of two wild pythons, assigned them to High or Low feeding treatments, and monitored growth and meal consumption for 12 weeks, a period when pythons are thought to grow very rapidly. None of the 30 hatchlings that were offered food prior to their fourth week post-hatching consumed it, presumably because they were relying on internal yolk stores. Although only two clutches were used in the experiment, we found that nearly all phenotypic variation was explained by clutch rather than feeding treatment or sex. Hatchlings from clutch 1 (C1) grew faster and were longer, heavier, in better body condition, ate more frequently, and were bolder than hatchlings from clutch 2 (C2), regardless of food availability. On average, C1 and C2 hatchling snout-vent length (SVL) and weight grew 0.15 cm d−1 and 0.10 cm d−1, and 0.20 g d−1 and 0.03 g d−1, respectively. Additional research may be warranted to determine whether these effects remain with larger clutch sample sizes and to identify the underlying mechanisms and fitness implications of this variation to help inform risk assessments and management.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Clutch may predict growth of hatchling Burmese pythons better than food availability or sex
DOI 10.1242/bio.058739
Authors Jillian Maureen Josimovich, Bryan G. Falk, Alejandro Grajal-Puche, Emma B. Hanslowe, Ian A. Bartoszek, Robert Reed, Andrea Faye Currylow
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Biology Open
Index ID 70226502
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center