Plasma steroid hormone levels of female red-sided garter snakes, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis: relationship to mating and gestation

Gen Comp Endocrinol. 1987 Jul;67(1):33-43. doi: 10.1016/0016-6480(87)90202-4.


Plasma levels of progesterone (P), testosterone (T), estradiol (E2), and corticosterone (B) of female red-sided garter snakes were measured during the period of ovarian development. Differences in hormone levels were analyzed with respect to three factors: whether the female mated in the spring, ovarian condition, and time after emergence from hibernation. The influence of these three factors on steroid hormone levels of two groups of females were then compared. In experiment I, females were obtained in the fall, subjected to an artificial dormancy period, and placed on warm, summer-like conditions in the laboratory. In experiment II, females were collected in the spring and sampled in the field. They were held in the field on fluctuating conditions for several weeks and then returned to the laboratory for sampling during early vitellogenesis. Females in experiment I had a shortened but otherwise normal ovarian and gestational cycle, whereas females in experiment II had an ovarian and gestational cycle typical of females in the field. In spite of these differences, the steroid hormone levels in relation to the ovarian cycle were remarkably similar for the two groups of females. We confirmed that mating in the spring induces a surge in E2; E2 also was elevated in a single sample obtained from animals collected in the fall. This elevation in plasma levels of E2 in the fall occurs at a time when the majority of females have recently deposited sperm in their oviducts. Plasma levels of T, P, and B were not significantly influenced by mating. Unlike previous reports of other viviparous snakes, plasma levels of P were low and mostly nondetectable, even during late gestation. Plasma T was significantly elevated around the time of late vitellogenesis and ovulation, and there was a tendency for E2 levels to be elevated at this time. In the field, plasma B levels were initially high immediately after capture and declined with time. Plasma B was significantly elevated in all females several weeks after emergence, suggesting that levels of B may vary with other annual cycles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Corticosterone / physiology*
  • Estradiol / blood*
  • Female
  • Hibernation
  • Ovary / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Animal / physiology*
  • Progesterone / blood*
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*
  • Snakes / physiology*
  • Testosterone / blood*


  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • Estradiol
  • Corticosterone