Chemical and behavioral ecology of foraging in prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis viridis)

David Duvall, David Chiszar, William K. Hayes, Janet K. Leonhardt, Matthew J. Goode

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Free-ranging prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis viridis) exhibit lengthy vernal migrations upon emergence from winter hibernation. A series of laboratory experiments was designed to test hypotheses regarding the function and causation of vernal movements. Rattlesnakes obtained from Wyoming and Colorado populations were used. First, we hypothesized that the function of vernal movements is to locate small mammal prey. Second, we predicted that active C. v. viridis use prey chemicals, as well as other cues, to decide whether or not rodents are present in an area. Third, we hypothesized that vernally active males would be more responsive to rodent prey and their odors than females, given observed differences in behavior in the field. Fourth, we predicted that rattlesnakes captured in Colorado would be more sensitive to prey odors than those obtained in Wyoming, because of disparate community structure and, hence, small mammal spatial distributions. As expected, snakes exhibited reduced activity, as well as certain other dependent measures reflecting predatory investigation, in arena zones containing either live rodents or their chemicals. However, responses to the latter were reduced in Wyoming rattlesnakes tested with chemicals from deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), relative to Colorado animals tested with chemicals obtained from house mice (Mus musculus). In contrast to patterns observed in nature, males and females exhibited almost no differences in overall responsiveness. Results are discussed in the context of simulation modeling and ongoing studies of prairie rattlesnake behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-101
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Chemical Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Crotalus viridis viridis
  • chemical signals
  • foraging
  • predation
  • rattlesnake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry


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