Several aquatic vertebrates have been introduced into freshwater systems in California over the past 100 years. Some populations of the two-striped garter snake (Thamnophis hammondii) have lived in sympatry with these species since their introduction; other populations have never encountered them. To assess the possible adaptation to a novel prey, we tested the predatory responses of T. hammondii from different populations to different chemosensory cues from native and introduced prey species. We presented chemical extracts from potential prey types and 2 control odors to individual snakes on cotton swabs and recorded the number of tongue flicks and attacks directed at each swab. Subject response was higher for prey odors than control substances. Odors from introduced centrarchid fish (Lepomis) elicited higher response levels than other prey types, including native anuran larvae (Pseudacris regilla). The pattern of response was similar for both populations of snakes (experienced and naïve, with respect to the introduced prey). We suggest that the generalist aquatic lifestyle of T. hammondii has allowed it to take advantage of increasing populations of introduced prey. Decisions on the management strategies for some of these introduced prey species should include consideration of how T. hammondii populations might respond in areas of sympatry.
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Vol. 49 • No. 4