Does color polymorphism affect the predation risk on Phalotris lemniscatus (Duméril, Bibron and Duméril, 1854) (Serpentes, Dipsadidae)?
The snake Phalotris lemniscatus is a polymorphic species regarding color, which varies between light shades with a yellow predominance (pale yellow-brown) to darker shades with a red predominance (red-dark). Pale yellow-brown individuals are more frequent in coastal populations while there is a tendency of increasing the frequency of red-dark morphs in inland areas. Considering the variation in substrate color along the species distribution (light/sandy on the coast to reddish and dark/argillaceous in inland areas), we raise the hypothesis that the predation rate of each morph would be lower in sites were its crypsis potential is higher. If correct, this hypothesis would reinforce the idea that the predation risk is one of the factors influencing the spatial structuring in morph frequency distributions in populations of P. lemniscatus. To test this hypothesis, we performed a field experiment using plasticine P. lemniscatus artificial models that represent two morphs: red-dark and pale yellow-brown. The models were distributed in three localities where the following substrate types predominate: light (Coastal Site), intermediary (Lowland Site) and reddish dark (Highland Site). Our predictions were corroborated only at the coastal site, where the less cryptic morph was the most preyed one. We verified that there is a regional variation in the predation risk on different morphs. Thus, the possibility that the selective pressure by predators is a relevant element in the structuring of the frequencies of different morph populations of this species cannot be completely excluded.