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27 September 2012 Body size and trophic divergence of two large sympatric elapid snakes (Notechis scutatus and Austrelaps superbus) (Serpentes : Elapidae) in Tasmania
S. Fearn, J. Dowde, D. F. Trembath
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Tiger snakes (Notechis scutatus) and lowland copperheads (Austrelaps superbus) are both large viviparous elapid snakes confined to the cooler, mesic regions of southern Australia. In spite of both species being common and widespread in the island state of Tasmania, no quantified studies on the trophic ecology of these two snakes from the main island has been published. During a two-year period we collected field data from 127 adult A. superbus and 74 adult N. scutatus from throughout eastern Tasmania. For both species, males were larger than females with respect to all measured parameters, including mass and head size. Reproduction in females was strongly seasonal and clutch size was not related to maternal body size. N. scutatus has a larger head than A. superbus and consequently ingests both small and large prey. N. scutatus in our study displayed the most catholic diet of any Australian elapid studied to date and consumed mammals (possum, bandicoot, antechinus, rats, mice), birds (fairy wrens), fish (eel, trout) and frogs. A. superbus shows a more specialist diet of large volumes of predominately ectothermic prey (frogs, lizards, snakes) even at maximal sizes and was more likely to contain ingested prey than specimens of N. scutatus. Distinctive rodent bite scars were common on N. scutatus but rare on A. superbus. The high frequency of rodent bite scars on N. scutatus further supports our findings of a primarily endothermic diet for mature specimens. We suggest that significant differences in head size, and hence diet, as well as a taxonomically diverse suite of potential prey in Tasmania allow both these large snakes to coexist in sympatry and avoid interspecific competitive exclusion.

© CSIRO 2012
S. Fearn, J. Dowde, and D. F. Trembath "Body size and trophic divergence of two large sympatric elapid snakes (Notechis scutatus and Austrelaps superbus) (Serpentes : Elapidae) in Tasmania," Australian Journal of Zoology 60(3), 159-165, (27 September 2012).
Received: 14 January 2012; Accepted: 1 August 2012; Published: 27 September 2012
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