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Stressed Snakes: What Can Glucocorticoid Hormones Tell Us About Snake Physiology?

Taylor, Emily N.

Department of Biological Sciences

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 USA

When exposed to stressors, vertebrates secrete glucocorticoid hormones that mobilize and direct energy to the appropriate effectors to help the animals deal with those stressors. Due to their density and ease of study, the glucocorticoid stress response of rattlesnakes has been characterized in a wide variety of situations. My presentation will describe our current knowledge about how rattlesnakes respond to various potential stressors, including handling and confinement, drought, reproduction, translocation, and others. In addition, I will explore how baseline glucocorticoid levels and the stress response of rattlesnakes may be related to their condition and performance, in terms of body fat, sex and reproductive condition, and venom composition. I will focus on translocation, which is widely used and generally considered an acceptable management strategy for nuisance rattlesnakes. Short distance translocation does not impact glucocorticoid levels, whereas long distance translocation does increase stress hormone levels, an observation that aligns with data on how these practices affect movement and survival of these snakes. This could have important implications for how our management of nuisance rattlesnakes impacts their health and life histories. Accumulation of data about the stress response of rattlesnakes, along with many other taxa, will facilitate large-scale comparisons of taxa based on characteristics ranging from metabolic rate to habitat to phylogeny.

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