Parental behavior in Pythons is responsive to both the hydric and thermal dynamics of the nest

Zachary Stahlschmidt, Dale Denardo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Parental behavior contributes to the success of a diverse array of taxa, and female-only nest attendance is particularly widespread. Python egg-brooding behavior is an intriguing example of female-only nest attendance because it significantly influences several critical developmental variables, namely embryonic prédation, hydration, respiration and temperature. During brooding, females predominately adopt a tightly coiled posture that reduces the exchange of heat, water vapor, O2 and CO2 between the nest and clutch environment, which benefits egg water balance at the cost of respiration. To determine the plasticity of this important behavior, we manipulated nest temperature and humidity while monitoring nest-clutch thermal, hydric and respiratory relationships to test the hypothesis that female Children's pythons (Antaresia childreni) modify their egg-brooding behavior due to an interaction between environmental thermal and hydric conditions. During moderate and high nest humidity treatments (23 and 32 g m-3 H 2O, respectively), females spent more time coiling tightly when the nest was cooling than when it was warming, which benefited clutch temperature. However, brooding females in low-humidity nest environments (13 gm-3 H2O) showed a high frequency of tight coiling even when the nest was warming; thus, nest temperature and humidity had an interactive effect on egg-brooding behavior in support of our hypothesis. Our results also suggest that certain egg-brooding behaviors (i.e. postural adjustments) are more energetically costly to females than other behaviors (i.e. tight coiling). In sum, we provide empirical support for the adaptive plasticity of python egg-brooding behavior, which offers insight into the general significance of female-only nest attendance in animals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1691-1695
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2010


  • Adaptive plasticity
  • Life history trade-offs
  • Metabolism
  • Parental care
  • Snake
  • Thermoregulation
  • Water balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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