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Scale Sensillae of the File Snake (Serpentes: Acrochordidae) and Some Other Aquatic and Burrowing Snakes

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

The acrochordid snakes are aquatic, living in environments with often a poor visibility. It therefore was investigated how these animals detect their prey. Two earlier studies of their scales revealed a rather complex scale organ, composed of hairlike protrusions and plate-like structures. However, no satisfactory explanation was given for the structures found, e.g., an undefined sensilla or a gland. Skin samples from various sites of the body of Acrochordus granulatus and A. javanicus were studied. Scanning electron microscopic pictures revealed that each scale of the head contains up to seven sensillae, and each of the keeled scales of the rest of the body has one. Also a modified Allochrome staining procedure on tissue samples was performed to detect glycogen, which is known to occur in discoidal nerve endings of tactile sense organs of reptiles. Light microscopic slides revealed glycogen particles in a small pillow-shaped area just below the hairlike protrusions of an organ. Moreover, small nerves were recognized near the same location. No indications were found for the scale organs to have a glandular function. Because of the reported reactions of a snake when it is touched by a fish, these scale sensilla are proposed to be very sensitive mechanoreceptors. Comparisons were made with the scale organs of snakes from various habitats, viz. the seasnake Lapemis hardwicki, and burrowing snakes such as Xenopeltis unicolor and Cylindrophis rufus. Their skin sensillae revealed to be of a much simpler outer morphology and only concentrated on specific parts of the head and neck region.

Affiliations: 1: (Section Dynamic Morphology, Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Leiden University, P.O. Box 9516, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands


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