Sympatric Masticophis flagellum and Coluber Constrictor Select Prey at Different Levels of Taxonomy

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Masticophis flagellum (Coachwhip) and Coluber constrictor (Eastern Racer) are widespread North American snakes with similar foraging modes and habits. Little is known about the selection of prey by either species, and despite their apparently similar foraging habits, comparative studies of the foraging ecology of sympatric M. flagellum and C. constrictor are lacking. We examined the foraging ecology and prey selection of these actively foraging snakes in xeric, open-canopied Florida scrub habitat by defining prey availability separately for each snake to elucidate mechanisms underlying geographic, temporal, and interspecific variation in predator diets. Nineteen percent of M. flagellumand 28% of C. constrictor contained stomach contents, and most snakes contained only one prey item. Mean relative prey mass for both species was less than 10%. Larger C. constrictor consumed larger prey than small individuals, but this relationship disappeared when prey size was scaled to snake size. Masticophis flagellum was selective at the prey category level, and positively selected lizards and mammals; however, within these categories it consumed prey species in proportion to their availability. In contrast, C. constrictor preyed upon prey categories opportunistically, but was selective with regard to species. Specifically, C. constrictor positively selected Hyla femoralis (Pine Woods Treefrog) and negatively selected Bufo quercicus (Oak Toad), B. terrestris (Southern Toad), and Gastrophryne carolinensis (Eastern Narrowmouth Toad). Thus, despite their similar foraging habits, M. flagellum and C. constrictor select different prey and are selective of prey at different levels of taxonomy.

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Copeia, v. 4, p. 897-908