Maternal brooding in the children's python (Antaresia childreni) promotes egg water balance

Olivier Lourdais, Ty C M Hoffman, Dale Denardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Parental care provides considerable benefits to offspring and is widespread among animals, yet it is relatively uncommon among squamate reptiles (e.g., lizards and snakes). However, all pythonine snakes show extended maternal egg brooding with some species being facultatively endothermic. While facultative endothermy provides thermal benefits, the presence of brooding in non-endothermic species suggests other potential benefits of brooding. In this study we experimentally tested the functional significance of maternal brooding relative to water balance in the children's python, Antaresia childreni, a small species that does not exhibit facultative endothermy. Clutch evaporative water loss (EWL) was positively correlated with clutch mass and was much lower than expected values based on individual eggs. The conglomerate clutch behaved as a single unit with a decreasing surface area to volume ratio as clutch size increased. Maternal brooding had a dramatic impact on evaporation from eggs, reducing and possibly eliminating clutch EWL. In a separate experiment, we found that viability of unattended eggs is highly affected by humidity level, even in the narrow range from 75 to 100% relative humidity at 30.5°C (20-33 mg m-3 absolute humidity). However, the presence of the brooding female ameliorated this sensitivity, as viability of brooded clutches at 75% relative humidity was higher than that of non-brooded eggs at either the same absolute humidity or at near-saturated conditions. Overall, these results demonstrate that brooding behavior strongly promotes egg water balance (and thus egg viability) in children's pythons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)569-577
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Egg
  • Evaporation
  • Evaporative water loss
  • Parental care
  • Snake
  • Water balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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