CZAAWE Resource Article

Fighting dynamics of male copperheads,Agkistrodon contortrix (Serpentes, Viperidae): Stress-induced inhibition of sexual behavior in losers
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Zoo Biology
Abstract 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2361(1996)15:3<209::AID-ZOO2>3.3.CO;2-E Adult male copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) fight for priority of access to females during the mating periods in spring and late summer. During fights, one male abruptly quits and retreats, and the other chases in pursuit. One male thus emerges as the winner and the other as the loser. Reversal of this outcome does not occur during the time of observation (30 min) nor in 24 hr postfight trials. In all cases, winners gain priority of access to females. Losers, in contrast, do not pursue females nor gain access to them, even when winners are removed from the arena. In this study, courtship performance of male A. contortrix was studied in the laboratory using subjects with either winning or losing experience from staged fights. All males used first were tested with a single female to determine courtship performance prior to the agonistic trials. From these tests, each male was given a single courtship score of 0 (no courtship) to 3 (most intense courtship). Only males receiving a score of 2–3 were used in the initial agonistic trials. All staged fights were conducted in a large arena and involved two males and one female. Following fights, winners and losers were tested again for courtship performance. In trials conducted at 24 hr and 7 days postfight, only losers were tested. It was found that prefight courtship scores were not significantly different between winners and losers. At 30 min postfight, most losers showed complete suppression of courtship behavior (score 0). Winners, in contrast, showed equivalent or an increase in their courtship scores. At 24 hr postfight, courtship scores of losers remained significantly lower than their prefight scores. At 7 days postfight, courtship scores of losers were not significantly difference from their original prefight scores. Fighting behavior in free-ranging A. contortrix represents a potentially significant cost to losers if it is associated with loss of reproductive opportunities. Recent evidence from hormonal studies indicates that inhibition of courtship and fighting behavior in male A. contortrix is stress-induced. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.