How females allocate resources to each offspring and how they allocate the sex of their offspring are two powerful potential avenues by which mothers can affect offspring fitness. Previous research has focussed extensively on mean offspring size, with much less attention given to variance in offspring size. Here we focussed on variation in offspring size in black ratsnakes, Elaphe obsoleta. We collected and hatched 105 clutches (1283 eggs) over 9 years. We predicted that females should lay larger eggs, or more variable eggs, when the environment is less predictable. We also predicted that females laying early or laying larger eggs should produce mostly sons because adult males are larger than adult female ratsnakes. The largest hatchling was more than twice the length and almost four times the mass of the smallest hatchling. Variation in offspring size was itself highly variable, with CVs in offspring mass among clutches ranging from 1% to 25%. With one exception, the variables we expected should influence variation in offspring size had little effect. We found that clutch size increased with maternal size and that egg size decreased with clutch size, but we found no evidence that variance in egg size among clutches increased as the season progressed or that females increased the mean size of their offspring the later in the season they laid their eggs. Females in better condition after they finish laying their eggs did produce larger eggs. There was no relationship between within‐clutch variation in egg size and laying date or mean egg size. Finally, sex ratio did not vary with mean egg size or hatching date. Given evidence that offspring size in snakes affects survival, selection should reduce variation in offspring size unless that variance enhances maternal fitness and yet we found little support for hypothesized advantages of varying offspring size.
Snakes were marked with tags when first captured, eggs were collected from nests and hatched them