Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/110
Date of Award
MS in Biological Sciences
To gain a better understanding of the role of steroid hormones in vertebrate reproduction, we quantified steroid hormone concentrations in a free ranging population of the Northern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus. Plasma steroid hormone concentrations were quantified for both male and female snakes throughout the active season (Mar-Oct). We measured testosterone (T), 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and corticosterone (B) concentrations in male and female snakes. 17β-estradiol (E2) and progesterone (P) were measured in females only. We also observed breeding behaviors (e.g. consortship, courtship, and copulation) in the field and measured testis and follicle size in male and female snakes from museum collections. Our results indicate that C. oreganus in central California utilizes a bimodal pattern of breeding, with mating and agonistic behavior occurring in the spring and the late summer/fall. Each breeding season corresponds with elevated or highly variable androgen (T and DHT) levels. Several female snakes had high E2 concentrations in the spring and fall, coincident with vitellogenesis and mating. Females with high E2 concentrations also had high T and DHT concentrations. Corticosterone concentrations in males are not related to either time of year or concentrations of any other hormones quantified. This suggests that the breeding season in this population may not demand a significant increase in energy mobilization by glucocorticoids. Measurements of testis volume show that testes are regressed in the spring when the majority of breeding was observed in this population and reach peak volume in August and September during spermatogenesis. Multiple regression analyses revealed that in female snakes, P is positively correlated with T and DHT, and E2 is correlated with T. Since these results are strictly descriptive, experimental studies are needed to identify the functional significance of these results.