Protein catabolism in pregnant snakes (Epicrates cenchria maurus Boidae) compromises musculature and performance after reproduction

O. Lourdais, F. Brischoux, Dale Denardo, R. Shine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


In many species the high energetic demands of reproduction induce a negative energy balance, and thus females must rely on tissue catabolism to complete the reproductive process. Previous works have shown that both fat and protein are energy resources during prolonged fasting in vertebrates. While many ecological studies on energy costs of reproduction have focused on variations in fat stores, the impact of protein investment on the female has not been thoroughly investigated. Notably, as there is no specialized storage form for proteins, intense catabolism is likely to entail structural (musculature) loss that may compromise maternal physical performance after reproduction. Measurements on captive rainbow boas (Epicrates cenchria maurus) confirm that reproducing females undergo significant protein catabolism (as indicated by elevated plasma uric acid levels) and show considerable musculature loss during gestation (as detected by reduced width of the epaxial muscles). Protein mobilization entailed a significant functional loss that was illustrated by decrements in tests of strength and constriction after parturition. In wild situations, such effects are likely to decrease the snakes' ability to forage and apprehend prey. Hence, the time period needed to recover from reproduction can be extended not only because the female must compensate losses of both fat stores and functional muscle, but also because the ability to do so may be compromised. Performance alteration is likely to be of equal or greater importance than reduced energy stores in the physiological mediation of elevated post-reproduction mortality rates and infrequent reproductive bouts (e.g. biannual or triannual), two common ecological traits of female snakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)383-391
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2004


  • Costs of reproduction
  • Musculature
  • Protein catabolism
  • Snakes
  • Viviparity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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