Time spent pursuing, capturing, and subduing prey, and time spent preparing and swallowing it all affect profitability of a prey item (net energy gain/handling time). In the diet selection model of classical optimal foraging theory, handling time is constant for each prey type, but several factors affect it in some predators. We studied factors that might cause time spent to capture and handle prey by broad-headed skinks (Eumeces laticeps) to vary between and within prey types. Pursuit time did not vary with prey (cricket) size in experimental conditions. In three experiments using crickets of the same size, handling times for the first prey eaten were shorter when more prey were simultaneously present. Reduced handling time likely maximizes number of prey captured before the remaining prey escape. Preparation time (capture to initiation of swallowing) did not vary with prey number, but swallowing time decreased with number of prey present. This result suggests that lizards must prepare crickets thoroughly for digestion by bites puncturing the exoskeleton, which constrains them from decreasing preparation time. However, lizards can reduce handling time by swallowing more quickly, increasing the likelihood of capturing additional prey. Handling times were shortest for hungry skinks and longest just before satiation. Two factors may contribute to the increase in handling time with degree of satiation: (1) Motivation to capture prey declines as a predator becomes satiated, removing the reason for shortening handling times when groups of prey are present; (2) as the stomach and the esophagus are filled, mechanical constraints may slow swallowing. Preparation time, number of bites, swallowing time, and handling time increased with cricket size. Consequently, although it appears that the largest prey were the most profitable for sizes of crickets studied, this may not be true for other ranges of prey size. Preparation time was shorter for prey bitten on the head than on the side or back, but prey orientation during swallowing did not affect swallowing time. In summary, (1) when prey are present simultaneously, total energetic profit may be increased by reducing handling time, and (2) handling for specific prey types vary with satiation and handling method.
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Vol. 62 • No. 4