Most physiological processes are temperature‐dependent. Thus, for ectotherms, behavioural control of body temperatures directly affects their physiology. Ectotherms thermoregulate by adjusting habitat use and therefore thermoregulation is probably the single most important proximate factor influencing habitat use of terrestrial reptiles, at least in temperate climates.
Snakes have been shown to raise their body temperature following feeding in a laboratory thermal gradient, presumably to enhance digestion. This experiment was exported to the field to explore the link between feeding, habitat selection and thermoregulation in free‐ranging snakes.
Experimental feeding was conducted in the laboratory and in the field on black rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta) that had temperature‐sensitive radio‐transmitters surgically implanted.
Snakes had higher mean body temperatures following feeding than prior to feeding in a laboratory thermal gradient.
Some, but not all evidence, indicated that black rat snakes increased their mean body temperature following feeding in the field. Indices of thermoregulation indicated that the snakes thermoregulated more carefully and more effectively after they had eaten.
Forest edges provided the best opportunities for thermoregulation in the study area. Black rat snakes were less likely to move following feeding when fed in edges than when fed in the forest and were more likely to be found in edges following feeding, whether they had been fed in the forest or in an edge.
Results of this study and one previous study suggest that thermoregulatory behaviour of snakes following feeding in the laboratory is a reliable predictor of their behaviour in the field. A review of 13 studies of the thermoregulatory behaviour of snakes following feeding in the laboratory revealed that not all species behave similarly. However, the quality and number of studies currently available is not adequate for testing hypotheses about which species should change thermoregulatory behaviour in response to eating and which should not.
Subset of individuals selected and surgically implanted with temperature-sensitive radio-transmitters, feeding trials