Chemosensory age discrimination in the snake Boa constrictor (Serpentes: Boidae)
Many snakes are able to use their chemosensory system to detect scent of conspecifics, which is important in many social contexts. Age discrimination based on chemical cues may be especially important to ensure access to sexually mature potential partners. In this study, we used 24 individual Boa constrictor snakes (12 adults mature and 12 non-mature individuals) that had been captured in different areas of Ecuador, and were maintained in captivity at the Vivarium of Quito. We used tongue-flick experiments to examine whether these snakes were able to discriminate between scents from mature and non-mature individuals. Results showed that B. constrictor snakes used chemical cues to recognize conspecifics and that the scent of individuals of different ages elicited chemosensory responses of different magnitudes. The scents from adult conspecifics elicited the quickest and highest chemosensory responses (i.e., short latency times and high tongue-flick rates), although we did not find differential responses to scent of males and females. The magnitude of the responses was lower to scent of sub adult individuals, and then even lower to scent of juvenile snakes, but in all cases the scent of snakes was discriminated from a blank control. We discuss the potential chemical mechanisms that may allow age recognition and its implications for social and sexual behavior of this snake species.
Keywords: age recognition, boa constrictor, chemoreception, ecuador, snakes