Thermoregulation is thought to be the most important factor influencing habitat selection by terrestrial ectotherms, at least in temperate climates. The cost‐benefit model of thermoregulation predicts that ectotherms should invest more in thermoregulation when the costs of doing so are low (when the thermal quality of the habitat is high). However, the extent to which ectotherms vary their thermoregulatory behaviour according to the thermal quality of habitats is currently unknown. We studied the relationship between habitat use and thermoregulation in 53 black rat snakes using temperature‐sensitive radio‐transmitters. Among the habitats available to black rat snakes, edges had the highest thermal quality, retreat sites and forest were intermediate, and open habitats had the lowest thermal quality. Black rat snakes experienced more favourable body temperatures while in barns (retreat sites) than in edges, and in edges than in forest. During the day, the effectiveness and the extent of thermoregulation by the snakes were equal in barns and forest, but much lower in edges. In fact, black rat snakes selected thermally favourable microhabitats less than their availability while in edges. Therefore, more favourable body temperatures were not necessarily achieved in thermally superior habitats by increased thermoregulation, but simply because favourable temperatures were encountered more often in those habitats. This result is contrary to the central prediction of the cost‐benefit model of thermoregulation and we suggest that this model should be modified to put more emphasis on other costs of thermoregulation, such as increased predation risk or lost foraging opportunities.
Captured snakes from hibernacula and opportunistically. A select number had temperature-sensitive radio-transmitters were surgically implanted