Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 71–80 | Cite as

Pheromonal Mediation of Intraseasonal Declines in the Attractivity of Female Red-Sided Garter Snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis

  • Emily J. Uhrig
  • Deborah I. Lutterschmidt
  • Robert T. Mason
  • Michael P. LeMaster


During the breeding season, female red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) produce and express a sexual attractiveness pheromone that elicits male courtship behavior. Composed of a homologous series of saturated and monounsaturated methyl ketones, this pheromone is expressed in female skin lipids. Recent studies have shown that the sexual attractivity of unmated female garter snakes declines as the breeding season progresses. Here, we investigated whether temporal changes in the quantity and/or quality of the female sexual attractiveness pheromone are responsible for the observed loss of attractivity. Female red-sided garter snakes were collected immediately following spring emergence and held under natural conditions for the duration of the breeding season. Behavioral experiments confirmed that unmated females become significantly less attractive to males within two weeks of emergence from hibernation. Additionally, these females had lower estradiol concentrations at two weeks post-emergence. Subsequent chemical analyses revealed qualitative variation between the pheromone profiles of newly emerged females and those of females at two weeks post-emergence. Together, these results support the hypothesis that changes in the female sexual attractiveness pheromone are responsible for declining post-emergence female attractivity in garter snakes.

Key Words

Pheromone Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis Red-sided garter snake Reptile Courtship behavior Methyl ketones Estradiol 



We thank the Manitoba Department of Conservation, Dave Roberts, and Suzanne Estes for assistance in the field and Al and Gerry Johnson for their support. We also thank Vanessa Uhrig and Chris Friesen for encouragement and help in reviewing this manuscript, Pat Aldrich for assistance with statistical methods, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments that helped improve this manuscript. This work was supported by a Western Oregon University Cummins Natural Sciences and Math Award to E.J.U., an NSF grant (0620125) to R.T.M., and a Western Oregon University Faculty Development Award to M.P.L.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily J. Uhrig
    • 1
    • 3
  • Deborah I. Lutterschmidt
    • 2
  • Robert T. Mason
    • 3
  • Michael P. LeMaster
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyWestern Oregon UniversityMonmouthUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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