Parental care provides substantial benefits to offspring but exacts a high cost to parents, necessitating the evolution of offspring recognition systems when the risk of misdirected care is high. In species that nest, parents can use cues associated with the offspring (direct offspring recognition) or the nest (indirect offspring recognition) to reduce the risk of misdirected care. Pythons have complex parental care, but a low risk of misdirected care. Thus, we hypothesized that female Children's pythons (Antaresia childreni) use indirect cues to induce and maintain brooding behavior. To test this, we used a series of five clutch manipulations to test the importance of various external brooding cues. Contrary to our hypothesis, we found that female A. childreni are heavily internally motivated to brood, needing only minimal external cues to induce and maintain egg-brooding behavior. Females were no more likely to brood their own clutch in the original nest as they were to brood a clutch from a conspecific, a pseudoclutch made from only the shells of a conspecific, or their clutch in a novel nest. The only scenario where brooding was reduced, but even then not eliminated, was when the natural clutch was replaced with similarly sized stones. These results suggest that egg recognition in pythons is similar to that of solitary-nesting birds, which have similar nesting dynamics.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology