When sympatric species compete, character divergence may help maintain coexistence. Snakes are often found in species-rich assemblages while exploiting similar resources; because snake body size is a relatively plastic trait that determines the range of prey sizes an individual may consume, divergence in body size between sympatric species may arise as a result of interspecific interactions. The North American racer, Coluber constrictor, and the larger coachwhip, Coluber flagellum, have a close taxonomic relationship and similar foraging strategies. Therefore, we hypothesized that C. constrictor would be smaller where they co-occur with C. flagellum, as compared to where C. flagellum is absent, throughout the southeastern extent of their range. To evaluate this hypothesis, we obtained data on body size for 2321 adult C. constrictor and 526 adult C. flagellum, along with habitat data and other potentially important factors influencing body size. Coluber constrictor was smaller than elsewhere when in peninsular Florida, in pine forests, on hydric soils and in the presence of the larger and potentially competing C. flagellum. Body size of C. flagellum did not vary by any measured habitat variables. The trends we documented are consistent with the hypothesis that C. constrictor body size is influenced by several variables, including co-occurrence with C. flagellum.
Additional publication details
The effect of coachwhip presence on body size of North American racers suggests competition between these sympatric snakes