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The Metabolic Effort and Duration of Ecdysis in Timber Rattlesnakes: Implications for Time-Energy Budgets of Reptiles

Temperate reptiles are often considered to be low-energy systems, with their discrete use of time and energy making them model systems for the study of time-energy budgets. However, the semifrequent replacement and sloughing of the epidermis is a ubiquitous feature of squamate reptiles that is often overlooked when accounting for time and energy budgets in these animals. We used open-flow respirometry to measure both the energetic effort of ecdysis and the duration of the associated metabolic upregulation (likely related to behavioral changes often reported for animals in shed) in wild-caught timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus). We hypothesized that total effort of skin biosynthesis and physical removal would be related to body mass and expected the duration of the process to remain static across individuals at a fixed temperature (25°C). We provide both the first measurements of the cost of skin biosynthesis and physical removal in a reptile and the highest-resolution estimate of process duration recorded to date. We found that skin biosynthesis, but not the cost of physical removal of the epidermis, was related to body mass. Shed cycle duration was consistent across individuals, taking nearly 4 wk from process initiation to physical removal of the outermost epidermal layer. Total energetic effort of ecdysis was of sizeable magnitude, requiring ∼3% of the total annual energy budget of a timber rattlesnake. Energetic effort for a 500-g snake was equivalent to the amount of metabolizable energy acquired from the consumption of approximately two adult mice. Ecdysis is a significant part of the time-energy budgets of snakes, necessitating further attention in studies of reptilian energetics.