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Ecology of an insular snake assemblage in coastal Maine

February 13, 2024

Wildlife populations at the peripheries of their distributions or on isolated islands often display divergent and poorly understood morphological or life-history characteristics compared to core populations. We used a capture–mark–recapture dataset collected over a 19-year period to characterize a northern, insular snake assemblage in coastal Maine. We captured 611 individual snakes of 4 species (Thamnophis sirtalis [Common Gartersnake; n = 221 individuals], Diadophis punctatus [Ring-necked Snake; n = 258 individuals], Storeria occipitomaculata [Red-bellied Snake; n = 81 individuals], and Opheodrys vernalis [Smooth Greensnake; n = 51 individuals]) and recorded 104 recaptures. We provide some of the first data on growth, reproduction, and movement for these species in northern New England, expanding our understanding of insular and northern snake populations. Specifically, we found that Common Gartersnakes fed primarily on earthworms and amphibians and grew rapidly, in accordance with mainland populations, but exhibited smaller size at maturity and average litter sizes. We captured an unusually large number of Ring-necked Snakes, which are uncommon elsewhere in Maine, and recorded an apparently localized nesting area for this species, as well as relatively long-distance (230–300 m) dispersal away from that location. In our population, female Ring-necked Snakes mature in their third year, and this species exhibits weak sexual size dimorphism (SSD). We found the ecology of Red-bellied Snakes at our study site to be similar to other populations, with individuals feeding on slugs, and females maturing in their second year; however, our population exhibited the strongest pattern of (female-biased) SSD. Smooth Greensnakes were restricted to the most extensive old-field habitat within our study site and fed on a variety of arthropods. We confirmed communal nesting and short incubation period for this species and provide among the first data on growth and longevity (at least 7 years) of this relatively understudied species.

Publication Year 2024
Title Ecology of an insular snake assemblage in coastal Maine
DOI 10.1656/045.031.0102
Authors John D. Willson, Ethan J. Royal, Jacquelyn C. Guzy, Meredith C. Swartwout, Chelsea S. Kross
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Northeastern Naturalist
Index ID 70251722
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center