We report seasonal variation in steroid hormone levels in blood samples from free-ranging Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox), and the relationship between these hormones and events in the reproductive cycle. At a field site in the Sonoran Desert of south-central Arizona, we collected monthly blood samples over the course of two active seasons from 17 radiotelemetered females, and over three active seasons from 103 randomly encountered males. We used radioimmunoassay to measure plasma levels of 17β-estradiol, progesterone, corticosterone, and testosterone in samples from females, and corticosterone and testosterone in samples from males. Non-reproductive females have consistently low levels of circulating 17β-estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone throughout the year. In reproductive females, 17β-estradiol levels increase dramatically and testosterone levels increase modestly during vitellogenesis in April and May, while progesterone levels increase dramatically at ovulation in June and then steadily decline until parturition in August. Corticosterone levels appear relatively constant in non-reproductive females, whereas reproductive females show increased levels at the end of gestation. Plasma testosterone levels in males are low in early summer and are elevated during spring and late summer, corresponding to the two mating periods of C. atrox. Plasma corticosterone levels in males did not vary seasonally and were not related to testosterone levels.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology