Zoological Studies

Vol. 53, 2014

A global overview on the diet of the dice snake (Natrix tessellata) from a geographical perspective: foraging in atypical habitats and feeding spectrum widening helps colonisation and survival under suboptimal conditions for a piscivorous snake

András Weiperth1, Tibor Gaebele2, Imre Potyó1 and Miklós Puky1*

1MTA Centre for Ecological Research, Danube Research Institute, Karolina út 29, Budapest 1113, Hungary
2Szent István University, Faculty of Veterinary Science, István u. 2, Budapest 1078, Hungary

Background: The dice snake (Natrix tessellata Laurenti, 1768) is generally considered to be a fully or partially piscivorous freshwater snake species. The aim of the study was to make the first global overview on the taxonomy and geographical distribution of the species based on own observations, available databases and the special literature.
Besides freshwaters, N. tessellata turned out to hunt also in marine and terrestrial habitats predating on at least 29 and 15 species, respectively. On the basis of our data and the literature altogether, 113 prey taxa, mostly fish, were listed but 20% of them were invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. The importance of non-fish species in the diet was especially pronounced in deserts, high mountains and in dry Mediterranean areas. In spite of the wide feeding spectrum, only fish and amphibians were found to be predominant food items over the whole species' range. Fish dominated the catch of the dice snake in most quantitative studies, except one survey in Turkey, where the ratio of non-fish prey items was over 50%.
Conclusions: The global analysis of the diet of the dice snake revealed a feeding spectrum characteristically changing over the broad distribution area including non-fish prey as well as taxa from marine and terrestrial habitats. The analysis of the feeding spectrum separated four large geographical units with further distinctions in Central and Eastern Europe. Such diversity helps explain why this species was able to colonise a large and diverse Eurasian range.

Key words: Natrix tessellata; Reptilia; Diet; Feeding spectrum.

*Correspondence: E-mail: puky.miklos@okologia.mta.hu