Masters Thesis

Maternal provisioning and the effect of stress on tetrodotoxin production in terrestrial vertebrates

Chemicals are often sequestered by various organisms to defend against predators by making prey noxious, and in some cases, toxic. Sequestration has been observed in various taxa, however, there are few vertebrate examples available. Further, little is known about maternal provisioning of sequestered toxins. The Asian natricine snake, Rhabdophis tigrinus, sequesters bufadienolides from toxic toad prey and allocates toxins to offspring. Likewise, the common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, sequesters the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) in its liver from newt prey. However, maternal provisioning in this natricine snake has yet to be investigated. To investigate maternal investment of TTX in T. sirtalis, gravid snakes from Benton County, Oregon were offered toxic newts for consumption. The liver of female snakes and neonates were later dissected and TTX levels were quantified using a Competitive Inhibition Enzymatic Immunoassay. Dams were found to possess TTX in their livers, whereas, TTX was not detected in any neonate liver samples.

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