Giant snakes in tropical forests: a field study of the Australian scrub python, Morelia kinghorni

Fearn, S., Schwarzkopf, L., and Shine, R. (2005) Giant snakes in tropical forests: a field study of the Australian scrub python, Morelia kinghorni. Wildlife Research, 32 (2). pp. 193-201.

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Studies on species that attain very large body sizes provide a powerful opportunity to clarify the ecological correlates and consequences of body size, but logistical obstacles mean that most 'giant' species have attracted little field-based research. The Australian scrub python, Morelia kinghorni (= M. amethistina in earlier literature), is the largest Australian snake. Our three-year field study in the Tully River Gorge of tropical north-eastern Australia provides the first detailed ecological data on this species. Snakes aggregate in the gorge during the dry season for reproductive activities (combat, courtship and mating), and these aggregations consist primarily of large adult males. Wet-season samples from a nearby road contained more females, and more juvenile animals. Body temperatures of diurnally active pythons averaged 25.2°C, and were highly correlated with air and substrate temperatures. Larger snakes were cooler than smaller conspecifics, perhaps reflecting their slower heating rates. Recapture of marked individuals suggests that pythons of both sexes and all body sizes maintain fixed home ranges, as the distance from initial capture did not increase through time; most animals were recaptured <100 m from their initial capture point, but some dispersed at least 1.5 km. Adult male pythons spanned a massive range in body sizes (1.3-3.76 m in snout-vent length, 0.30-11 kg in mass), and larger males were more likely to engage in combat, exhibit combat-related injuries (bite wounds) and obtain matings. Presumably reflecting the reproductive advantage of larger body size, males attained much larger maximum sizes than did females within our study population.

Item ID: 8419
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1448-5494
Date Deposited: 19 Feb 2010 00:23
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 20%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060207 Population Ecology @ 80%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960806 Forest and Woodlands Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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