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The Dynamics of Snake Harassment By Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs

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Differential participation by particular classes of individuals is likely to influence how we assess the functional significance of harassing. I examined encounters between black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and snakes in both natural and experimentally-induced encounters and found substantial differences in how various age/sex classes of prairie dogs deal with snakes. Specifically, males spent more time close to snakes and in actively confronting these potential predators than did either females or pups. Fathers were not closer to snakes than were non-fathers, but fathers spent more time actively engaged in dealing with the snakes. Mothers and non-mothers did not differ markedly in how they dealt with snakes. Encounters with snakes occurred before and after the pups' first emergence from their natal burrows, but pup emergence did not alter the basic differences between males and females and fathers and non-fathers. Pup emergence did coincide with changes in the behavior of these classes, fathers barked less after pup emergence, and all classes with the exception of mothers were less positively oriented to snakes after pup emergence. However, the significance of these changes was not apparent. These results require that the functional significance of snake harassment by prairie dogs take into account this male bias in snake-directed behavior. Males are hypothesized to be less vulnerable to snakes than are pups and to have more at stake reproductively than do females. Fathers have more at stake reproductively than do non-fathers (although non-fathers may still be protecting mates) and thus should spend more time confronting and harassing snakes. This interpretation is founded on an understanding of the relationship between potential predator and potential prey and I conclude with a discussion of the appropriate description of this relationship.

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/content/journals/10.1163/156853987x00251
1987-01-01
2015-02-27

Affiliations: 1: Animal Behavior Graduate Group, Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis, California 95616 U.S.A.

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