Skinner, M., Miller, N. 2020. Aggregation and social interaction in garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 74, 51.
Previous research has shown that competition, familiarity, diet, and relatedness can all influence aggregation patterns in garter snakes. We controlled for these factors and examined social aggregation patterns in juvenile Eastern garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). We assayed snakes individually for consistent individual differences in boldness and sociability. We then placed snakes in groups of 10 in an enclosure with four shelters and observed their social interactions over a period of 8 days. We demonstrate that the snakes actively seek social interaction, prefer to remain with larger aggregates, and associate nonrandomly with specific individuals or groups. We show that their social interaction patterns are influenced by individual boldness, sociability, and age. The snakes’ social networks were perturbed twice a day by “shuffling” their locations. Despite these disturbances, the snakes eventually re-formed their preferred social environment. Aggregation and exploration patterns also varied across time, with most activity occurring later in the day. These results highlight the complexity of snake sociality and may have important implications for conservation efforts.