Seasonal variation in hormonal responses of timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) to reproductive and environmental stressors
As in many vertebrates, hormonal responses to stress vary seasonally in red-sided garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis). For example, males generally exhibit reduced glucocorticoid responses to a standard stressor during the spring mating season. We asked whether variation in adrenal sensitivity to adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) explains why glucocorticoid responses to capture stress vary with sex, season and body condition in red-sided garter snakes. We measured glucocorticoids at 0, 1 and 4 h after injection with ACTH (0.1 IU g(-1)body mass) or vehicle in males and females during the spring mating season and autumn pre-hibernation period. Because elevated glucocorticoids can influence sex steroids, we also examined androgen and estradiol responses to ACTH. ACTH treatment increased glucocorticoids in both sexes and seasons. Spring-collected males had a smaller integrated glucocorticoid response to ACTH than autumn-collected males. The integrated glucocorticoid response to ACTH differed with sex during the spring, with males having a smaller glucocorticoid response than females. Although integrated glucocorticoid responses to ACTH did not vary with body condition, we observed an interaction among season, sex and body condition. In males, ACTH treatment did not alter androgen levels in either season, but androgen levels decreased during the sampling period. Similar to previous studies, plasma estradiol was low or undetectable during the spring and autumn, and therefore any effect of ACTH treatment on estradiol could not be determined. These data provide support for a mechanism that partly explains how the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis integrates information about season, sex and body condition: namely, variation in adrenal responsiveness to ACTH.