Parental care typically consists of distinct behavioral components that are balanced to address the multiple needs of offspring. Female pythons exhibit post-oviposition parental care in which they coil around their parchment-shelled eggs throughout incubation (40-80 d). Subtle postural shifts during egg-brooding facilitate embryonic gas exchange but may entail hydric costs to the clutch. This study used a simple behavioral model to (1) further quantify the costs and benefits of specific parental behaviors to developing offspring and (2) determine the influence that developmental stage and relative clutch mass have on parental behavior. Although previous research has demonstrated that egg-brooding as a whole reduces clutch water loss, we hypothesized that egg-brooding female pythons specifically adopt a tightly coiled posture to conserve embryonic water, but must make postural adjustments to enhance gas exchange between the clutch and nest environments at the cost of increased clutch water loss. We measured rates of water loss in brooding Children's pythons (Antaresia childreni) and their respective clutches (i.e., brooding units) and monitored changes in brooding posture. We conducted serial trials to elucidate the effect of developmental stage on postural adjustments and water loss. Results demonstrated that the proportion of time females spent in a tightly coiled posture was inversely related to mean water loss from the brooding unit. Analyses indicated that slight adjustments in posture led to bursts in brooding unit water loss. Indeed, brooding unit water loss during postural adjustments was significantly higher than during tight coiling. These findings imply that python egg-brooding provides an adjustable diffusive barrier that leads to discontinuous gas exchange, which minimizes clutch water loss. Because females with larger relative clutch masses spent more time tightly coiled, egg-brooding female pythons may use a 'water first' strategy in which they intentionally conserve clutch water at the cost of reduced embryonic respiratory gas exchange.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology