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Morphology and evolution of the snake cornea

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  • Mari-Ann Otkjaer Da Silva, Copenhagen Zoo
  • ,
  • Jacob Thorup Gade, Copenhagen Zoo
  • ,
  • Christian Damsgaard
  • Tobias Wang
  • Steffen Heegaard, Eye Pathology Section, Department of Pathology, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark., Department of Ophthalmology, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Glostrup, Denmark.
  • ,
  • Mads Frost Bertelsen, Copenhagen Zoo

To investigate whether the thickness of the cornea in snakes correlates with overall anatomy, habitat or daily activity pattern, we measured corneal thickness using optical coherence tomography scanning in 44 species from 14 families (214 specimens) in the collection at the Natural History Museum (Denmark). Specifically, we analyzed whether the thickness of the cornea varies among species in absolute terms and relative to morphometrics, such as body length, spectacle diameter, and spectacle thickness. Furthermore, we examined whether corneal thickness reflects adaptation to different habitats and/or daily activity patterns. The snakes were defined as arboreal (n = 8), terrestrial (n = 22), fossorial (n = 7), and aquatic (n = 7); 14 species were classified as diurnal and 30 as nocturnal. We reveal that the interspecific variation in corneal thickness is largely explained by differences in body size, but find a tendency towards thicker corneas in diurnal (313 ± 227 μm) compared to nocturnal species (205 ± 169 μm). Furthermore, arboreal snakes had the thickest corneas and fossorial snakes the thinnest. Our study shows that body length, habitat, and daily activity pattern could explain the interspecific variation in corneal morphology among snakes. This study provides a quantitative analysis of the evolution of the corneal morphology in snakes, and it presents baseline values of corneal thickness of multiple snake species. We speculate that the cornea likely plays a role in snake vision, despite the fact that results from previous studies suggest that the cornea in snakes is not relevant for vision (Sivak, Vision Research, 1977, 17, 293-298).

TidsskriftJournal of Morphology
Sider (fra-til)240-249
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - 2020

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