Deborah I. Lutterschmidt

Date of Award

Summer 9-3-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Biology



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 73 pages)


Red-sided garter snake -- Seasonal variations, Red-sided garter snake -- Sex differences, Biological rhythms, Neuropeptide Y, Immunohistochemistry




Many animals exhibit seasonal changes in life-history stages, and these seasonal transitions are often accompanied by dramatic switches in behavior. While the neuroendocrine mechanisms that regulate such behavioral transitions are poorly understood, arginine vasotocin (AVT) and neuropeptide Y (NPY) are excellent candidates because they regulate reproductive and feeding behavior, respectively. In this study, I asked if seasonal changes in AVT and/or NPY are concomitant with spring migration away from the breeding grounds, as male and female red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) are transitioning from reproductive to non-reproductive behavior during this time. To address this question, I collected male and female snakes in different migratory stages during the spring and fall. Brains were processed for AVT and NPY immunohistochemistry and the total number of immunoreactive (-ir) cells quantified for each individual. As predicted, males had significantly more AVT-ir cells in the preoptic area and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, brain regions important for courtship behavior, during the spring mating season compared to the fall. Females had significantly more AVT-ir cells in the preoptic area during the spring compared to the fall and, surprisingly, did not exhibit seasonal changes in NPY. In contrast, males had significantly more NPY-ir cells in the cortex, a region important for spatial memory, and in the posterior hypothalamus during the fall compared to the spring, which likely reflects increased feeding behavior during the summer foraging period. Neither AVT- nor NPY-ir cell number varied significantly with migratory status, indicating that seasonal changes in these neuropeptides are not directly related to migration. I then asked if the observed seasonal changes in AVT and NPY in males and females are related to the transition from reproductive to non-reproductive states. Compared to courting males, non-courting males had significantly more AVT-ir cells in the supraoptic nucleus and more NPY-ir cells in the cortex. AVT- and NPY-ir cells did not differ between unmated and mated females. Collectively, my results suggest that AVT and NPY play a role in regulating seasonal transitions in male reproductive behavior, rather than regulating migration per se. Further, these data indicate that both AVT and NPY are regulating reproductive behavior differently in males versus females. These data provide the framework for future studies examining the mechanisms regulating transitions between reproductive, migratory and foraging behaviors.

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