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The Relationship Between Vertebral Osteology and Microhabitat and Prey-capture Methods in Snakes

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Vertebral osteology varies greatly among snake species. This variation may be related to specialization in microhabitat and prey-capture. Radiographs of eight preserved male specimens were taken in order to analyze

Vertebral osteology varies greatly among snake species. This variation may be related to specialization in microhabitat and prey-capture. Radiographs of eight preserved male specimens were taken in order to analyze the vertebral length and morphology of snakes which exhibit extreme characteristics in microhabitat utilization and prey-capture methods (highly arboreal, effective constrictor). This group includes two representatives each from four major families within Serpentes: Boidae, Pythonidae, Viperidae, and Colubridae. The four boids and pythons are effective constrictors, while the four vipers and colubrids are non-constricting. One specimen of each pair is highly arboreal, while the other is terrestrial. Findings support previous research in that constrictors had larger total numbers of vertebrae than non-constrictors. When average maximum adult length and morphology of axial musculature was taken into consideration, however, flexibility gained by vertebral number alone does not theoretically confer a mechanical advantage during constriction, at least among the specimens examined. All arboreal specimens had tails with a greater number of vertebrae than their con-familial terrestrial counterpart, implicating greater flexibility in the caudal region as an important characteristic for arboreality across taxa. Examination of segments of 10 vertebrae revealed that the greatest vertebral elongation occurred at the midpoint of the thoracic region. Reduction in size and length of tail vertebrae appears to occur independently of thoracic vertebrae. Colubrids, specifically, demonstrated a unique caudal vertebral elongation pattern which could potentially be advantageous for quick locomotion. These results indicate that caudal morphology may be more important in behavioral specialization than previously thought.

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  • 2016-12