Stable isotope tracer reveals that viviparous snakes transport amino acids to offspring during gestation Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Viviparity and placentation have evolved from oviparity over 100 times in squamate reptiles (lizards and snakes). The independent origins of placentation have resulted in a variety of placental morphologies in different taxa, ranging from simple apposition of fetal and maternal tissues to endotheliochorial implantation that is homoplasious with mammalian placentation. Because the eggs of oviparous squamates transport gases and water from the environment and calcium from the eggshell, the placentae of viviparous squamates are thought to have initially evolved to accomplish these functions from within the maternal oviduct. Species with complex placentae have also been shown to rely substantially, or even primarily, on placental transport of organic nutrients for embryonic nutrition. However, it is unclear whether species with only simple placentae are also capable of transporting organic nutrients to offspring. Among viviparous squamates, all of the snakes that have been studied thus far have been shown to have simple placentae. However, most studies of snake placentation are limited to a single lineage, the North American Natricinae. We tested the abilities of four species of viviparous snakes - Agkistrodon contortrix (Viperidae), Boa constrictor (Boidae), Nerodia sipedon (Colubridae: Natricinae) and Thamnophis sirtalis (Colubridae: Natricinae) - to transport diet-derived amino acids to offspring during gestation. We fed [(15)N]leucine to pregnant snakes, and compared offspring (15)N content with that of unlabeled controls. Labeled females allocated significantly more (15)N to offspring than did controls, but (15)N allocation did not differ among species. Our results indicate that viviparous snakes are capable of transporting diet-derived amino acids to their offspring during gestation, possibly via placentation.

publication date

  • 2012