Evolution of regulatory responses to feeding in snakes

Physiol Biochem Zool. Mar-Apr 2000;73(2):123-41. doi: 10.1086/316734.


Do animal species that normally consume large meals at long intervals evolve to down-regulate their metabolic physiology while fasting and to up-regulate it steeply on feeding? To test this hypothesis, we compared postfeeding regulatory responses in eight snake species: four frequent feeders on small meals and four infrequent feeders on large meals. For each species, we measured factorial changes in metabolic rate, in activities and capacities of five small intestinal brush border nutrient transporters, and in masses of eight organs that function in nutrient processing after consumption of a rodent meal equivalent to 25% of the snake's body mass. It turned out that, compared with frequent feeders, infrequent feeders digest that meal more slowly; have lower metabolic rates, organ masses, and nutrient uptake rates and capacities while fasting; have higher energy expenditure during digestion; and have higher postfeeding factorial increases in metabolic rate, organ masses, and nutrient uptake rates and capacities. These conclusions, which conform to the hypothesis mentioned above, remain after phylogeny has been taken into account. The small organ masses and low nutrient transporter activities during fasting contribute to the low fasting metabolism of infrequent feeders. Quantitative calculations of partial energy budgets suggest that energy savings drive the evolution of low mass and activities of organs during fasting and of large postfeeding regulatory responses in infrequent feeders. We propose further tests of this hypothesis among other snake species and among other ectotherms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid / analysis
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biological Transport
  • Boidae / genetics
  • Boidae / metabolism
  • Boidae / physiology
  • Colubridae / genetics
  • Colubridae / metabolism
  • Colubridae / physiology
  • Digestion* / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Glucose / analysis
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Intestine, Small / chemistry
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Intestine, Small / physiology
  • Leucine / analysis
  • Leucine / metabolism
  • Lysine / analysis
  • Lysine / metabolism
  • Microvilli / chemistry
  • Microvilli / metabolism
  • Microvilli / physiology
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Proline / analysis
  • Proline / metabolism
  • Snakes / genetics
  • Snakes / metabolism
  • Snakes / physiology*
  • Stomach / chemistry
  • Stomach / physiology
  • Viperidae / genetics
  • Viperidae / metabolism
  • Viperidae / physiology


  • Aspartic Acid
  • Proline
  • Leucine
  • Glucose
  • Lysine