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Toms River, NJ, United States

Reinert H.K.,The College of New Jersey | MacGregor G.A.,Stewardship Center | Esch M.,The College of New Jersey | Bushar L.M.,Arcadia University | Zappalorti R.T.,Herpetological Associates Inc

The geographic range of the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) encompasses most of the eastern half of the United States. Although the overall diet composition of C. horridus has been well documented and has been reported to be very broad, local population variation has not been studied. We examined the diet and foraging behavior of C. horridus from four separate populations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A total of 253 prey items from scat samples, stomach samples, and field observation were identified to species or family level. Although voles (Myodes gapperi) and mice (Peromyscus spp.) comprised the bulk of the diet in all populations, relative prey species frequency differed significantly among the four populations. These data indicate that the food habits of C. horridus varied widely even within relatively small geographic distances. Comparisons with small mammal trapping data further suggest that the diet composition of this ambush predator may not simply reflect the availability of prey species. Radiotelemetric observations of C. horridus further indicate differing frequencies of log-oriented foraging behavior among the study sites. Analysis of body posture revealed an alternative ambush foraging posture (non-log-oriented posture) which also exhibited variation in frequency among study sites. However, selected foraging habitats at all study sites were typified by a locally high density of fallen logs and other woody debris (6% of forest-floor cover/m 2). These findings indicate geographic variation in the foraging ecology of C. horridus and suggest behavioral plasticity in foraging response to available prey. © 2011 by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Source

Zappalorti R.,Herpetological Associates Inc | Burger J.,Rutgers University | Peterson F.,Herpetological Associates Inc

We studied home range size and maximum dispersal distance from hibernacula in Northern Pinesnakes (Pituophis m. melanoleucus) at a 1418-ha preserve in Cumberland County, New Jersey, USA, between 1993 and 2003. We discovered 22 different winter hibernacula that were used by 39 Northern Pinesnakes. Of the 10 snakes monitored in hibernacula for 3-5 yr, shifting was observed by 8 individuals, and 2 females showed hibernacula philopatry for five consecutive years. The average minimum convex polygon home range of 14 radio-tracked Northern Pinesnakes was 105.51 ha (located 30-108 times/snake), whereas the average kernel density estimator home range was 50% isopleth = 38.99 ha and 90% isopleth = 133.15 ha. There were no differences in home range as a function of sex, but the number of years snakes were radio-tracked affected home range size. An adult male had the largest home range of 258 ha. The average distance traveled by radio-tracked Northern Pinesnakes from their winter hibernacula was 1321.05 m, with a maximum distance of 2146.91 m. Of all snakes followed, 27.3% (n = 3) traveled <1000 m, 18.2% (n = 2) traveled 1000-1100 m, 18.2% (n = 2) traveled 1100-1200 m, and 36.4% (n = 4) traveled >1200 m. The average number of hibernacula available per home range was 3.2. Snakes that were monitored for ≥2 yr had larger home ranges than snakes that were only radio-tracked for 1 yr. Thus, radio-tracking several adult snakes over a 3-5-yr period is the most effective method to determine home ranges, locate hibernacula sites of meta-populations, and reveal an understanding of their ecology, behavior, and conservation requirements. © 2015 The Herpetologists' League, Inc. Source

Burger J.,Rutgers University | Burger J.,Environmental and Occupational Health science Institute | Zappalorti R.T.,Herpetological Associates Inc | Gochfeld M.,Environmental and Occupational Health science Institute | And 3 more authors.
Journal of Herpetology

Understanding the specific habitat requirements of reptiles during different life stages or seasons is critical to conserving viable populations. Northern Pinesnakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are one of the few species that spend the winter in underground hibernacula, which they excavate themselves. We report on 26 years (1986-2011) of monitoring Pinesnake use at seven hibernacula in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Our goal was to determine the frequency of repeated use, number of snakes present by year, disruptions of hibernacula, and the relationship between number of snakes present and the probability of occupancy of each hibernaculum in successive years. The overall goal was to determine the importance of protecting known hibernation sites regardless of whether they appear occupied in a given season. These data suggest that, if no snakes are observed entering a particular hibernaculum over a limited time period, it does not mean none are there or that none will use it in successive years. The variability in use suggests not only that predation and human disturbance can result in nonoccupancy the following year but that environmental and temperature-related conditions force snakes to have alternative hibernacula to reduce risk and ensure survival. Pinesnakes are listed as threatened by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for many reasons, including habitat loss. There is continued pressure from developers to destroy habitat during development, including critical hibernation sites. The long-term use of specific hibernacula, even with periods of low or no use, suggests that these resources should be protected to provide a matrix of available overwintering sites. © 2012 Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. Source

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