Nocturnal activity is important for many animals, but difficulty in documenting that activity has hampered efforts to understand factors that influence when animals are active at night. We used automated radiotelemetry to provide the first detailed tests of the hypothesis that the nocturnal activity of free-ranging snakes should be influenced by temperature, moon phase, and prey abundance by using data for Ratsnakes (Pantherophis spp.) from Texas and Illinois. Ratsnakes exhibited some nocturnal behavior throughout their active season in both Texas and Illinois, although snakes were much more active at night in Texas than in Illinois. Texas snakes transitioned from primarily diurnal activity to primarily nocturnal activity over this snake's active season, whereas Illinois snakes were always most active in the middle of the day. For both populations, nocturnal activity was positively related to temperature but unrelated to moon phase. Ratsnakes in Texas exhibited a stepwise increase in nocturnal activity in mid-summer, independent of temperature and coincident with the shift in their diet to almost exclusively mammals active at night. Given the ability of snakes in both populations to be active at night when temperatures allow, warming climates could lead to an increase in nocturnal activity, with consequences for both the snakes and the species on which they prey.
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Vol. 47 • No. 1