Date of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Dr. Dominic DeSantis
Accelerometer dataloggers are becoming increasingly common in field studies of animal behavior. Among the most difficult study subjects, and consequently, the most ideal candidates for accelerometer applications, are those for which simultaneous observation of key fitness-determining behaviors, such as foraging, across a sample of individuals in the wild is traditionally impossible or restricted to the use of proxy measures. This is the case for many solitary vertebrate predators, such as all pit vipers (Viperidae; Crotalinae). Large-bodied pit vipers are ambush (sit-and-wait) specialists that represent uniquely challenging and intriguing study subjects in predator ecology. Unlike many comparable avian or mammalian terrestrial predators, pit vipers are not as amenable to the external attachment of accelerometers (given their elongate and limbless morphology, and periodic ecdysis). However, pit vipers also present some logistical advantages over other vertebrate predators; as ectothermic, low-energy specialists, they often occur at much higher densities than other apex predators and are therefore logistically appealing for the longitudinal monitoring of large samples of individuals within relatively small areas. Additionally, the most prominent predatory behaviors associated with the foraging cycle of pit vipers (locomotion [active search], stillness [sit-and-wait], striking, and swallowing) are all temporally and biomechanically distinct, lending conceptual feasibility to the use of accelerometers for accurate segmentation of these behaviors. Two recently validated frameworks for accelerometer monitoring of movement and foraging behavior in rattlesnakes (Crotalus spp.) have set the stage for translating an integration of these methods in the field. Chapter one summarizes the transformative use of biologging devices, and accelerometers, specifically, for studying the foraging behavior of predators, while emphasizing the conceptual and logistical feasibility of pit vipers in this context. Chapter two reports on a case study that applies the above-mentioned frameworks for accelerometer recording of movement and foraging behavior in wild-ranging Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) from the lower Piedmont of Georgia, USA.
Thompson, Morgan L., "TOWARD ACCELEROMETER RECORDING OF PIT VIPER FORAGING BEHAVIOR IN NATURE: VALIDATION AND CASE STUDY WITH TIMBER RATTLESNAKES (CROTALUS HORRIDUS)" (2023). Biology Theses. 30.