Defending young against intruders is a potentially risky behavior, and is energetically costly. Yet female eastern red-backed salamanders, Plethodon cinereus, guard their clutches for many weeks and aggressively defend eggs against predators and conspecifics. I examined the effect of clutch age, clutch size, and attendant size on the level of aggression attained during nest defense by staging conspecific invasions of nests of brooding female P. cinereus in the laboratory. I predicted that older and larger clutches would elicit increased aggression from the guarding females, and that larger females would be more aggressive when defending. The females were significantly more aggressive when guarding older clutches (6 wk postoviposition) than younger clutches (4 wk postoviposition). However, there was no difference in aggressive behavior when females guarded large (10-egg) or small (4-egg) clutches. There was also no relationship between body size and level of aggression; females were aggressive regardless of their size. These results suggest that females are able to evaluate the age (or developmental stage) of their eggs and adjust expenditure accordingly, but are not differentially responsive to clutch size.

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