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Data from: Morphological convergence in a Mexican garter snake associated with the ingestion of a novel prey

Citation

Manjarrez, Javier; Macías Garcia, Constantino; Drummond, Hugh (2018), Data from: Morphological convergence in a Mexican garter snake associated with the ingestion of a novel prey, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.mg152

Abstract

Morphological convergence is expected when organisms which differ in phenotype experience similar functional demands, which lead to similar associations between resource utilization and performance. To consume prey with hard exoskeletons, snakes require either specialized head morphology, or to deal with them when they are vulnerable, e.g. during molting. Such attributes may in turn reduce the efficiency with which they prey on soft-bodied, slippery animals such as fish. Snakes which consume a range of prey may present intermediate morphology, such as that of Thamnophiine (Natricidae) which may be classified morphometrically across the soft-hard prey dietary boundary. In this study, we compared the dentition and head structure of populations of Thamnophis melanogaster that have entered the arthropod-crustacean (crayfish)-eating niche and those that have not, and tested for convergence between the former and two distantly related crayfish specialists of the genus Regina (R. septemvittata and R. grahamii). As a control, we included the congener T. eques. Multivariate analysis of jaw length, head length, head width, and number of maxillary teeth yielded three significant canonical variables that together explained 98.8 % of the variance in the size-corrected morphological data. The first canonical variable significantly discriminated between the three species. The results show that head dimensions and number of teeth of the two Regina species are more similar to those of crayfish-eating T. melanogaster than to non-crayfish-eating snakes or of T. eques. It is unclear how particular head proportions or teeth number facilitates capture of crayfish, but our results and the rarity of soft crayfish ingestion by T. melanogaster may reflect the novelty of this niche expansion, and are consistent with the hypothesis that some populations of T. melanogaster have converged in their head morphology with the two soft crayfish-eating Regina species, although we cannot rule out the possibility of a morphological preadaptation to ingest crayfish.

Usage Notes

Location

Eastern United States
Central Mexico