The Effect of Body Size on Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) Survival, Recapture Probability, and Behavior in an Alabama Swamp.

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Herpetological Conservation and Biology


In an effort to improve knowledge of Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) life history and behavior, we conducted a capture-mark-recapture study in Tuskegee National Forest, Alabama over four years to examine the influence of body size on survival, recapture probabilities, and behavior; as well as monitor change in the population's body-size distribution over time. Our estimate of annual Cottonmouth survival (0.79) is among the highest reported for all snakes. Although we did not detect an effect of body size on survival, the probability of recapturing individuals increased with body size up to a snout-vent-length of 82 cm, after which it remained approximately constant. Relative to large snakes, small snakes were more likely to be found in a resting coil and less likely to move away from researchers, suggesting that our lower probability of recapturing small snakes was not due to behavioral avoidance of researchers but perhaps dispersal patterns or microhabitat use. Furthermore, the observed frequency of snakes ≤ 30 cm in length increased each year, indicative of an increase in recruitment over time. Our findings provide new information about Cottonmouth life history, and we suggest future paths of research that could further enhance knowledge of Cottonmouth demography and population dynamics.


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