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Abstract

Female reproductive characteristics of 17 genera of Arkansas snakes (27 species and subspecies) were examined. Most of the snakes (n= 495) were collected over a 10-year span (1984-1993). Methods used to estimate clutch and/or litter size were as follows: 1) counts of previtellogenic ovarian follicles,2) counts of vitellogenic ovarian follicles,3) counts of oviductal eggs or embryos, 4) counts of corpora luteal scars, and 5) counts of neonates from egg clutches or litters. In several species, Method 1 tended to overestimate clutch size as determined by Method 2 by as much as 100% (e.g., in Diadophis punctatus, Elaphe obsoleta, and Lampropeltis getula), whereas these methods produced similar counts in Virginia striatula and Thamnophis proximus. The largest clutch size as estimated by Method 1 was 79 ova in a 744 mm in snout-vent length (SVL) individual of Thamnophis sirtalis; the smallest clutch size as recorded by this method was in Carphophis vermis (2 ova; 182 mm in SVL). Method 2 reduces the total egg count by one third over Method 1 in most species, and this count was very similar to the estimates obtained by Method 3, the most reliable way to estimate clutch or litter size (without actually having counts from egg clutches or litters). The presence of atretic ovarian follicles accounts for discrepancies found between clutch size estimates using Methods 1 and 2 as compared to Method 3. Comparisons of clutch sizes in Arkansas specimens to those recorded for snake species in neighboring states revealed similar sizes in 13 species; counts were larger in 8 species from Arkansas and smaller in only one species.

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