The effects of prey size on prey-handling behavior for 60 ingestively naive hatchling Elaphe helena were studied in the laboratory. Hatchlings were randomly assigned to one of three diet categories in which prey (Mus musculus) varied by relative mass differences of 20–35%, 40–46%, or 50–59% of an individual snake's own body mass. The effects of prey size on capture position, direction of ingestion, condition of prey at ingestion (dead/alive), feeding duration, and prey-handling tactic were observed and recorded for each feeding episode. Results indicated that prey size significantly affected the prey-handling behavior of hatchling E. helena. In the largest relative mass category, hatchlings captured prey by the anterior end more often than in the smaller two relative mass categories. Prey from the smallest relative mass category were simply seized whereas, in the medium and large categories, pinion and constriction behaviors were observed. Time to subdue and ingest the prey item increased with prey size categories.
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Vol. 59 • No. 4