Fang shape varies with ontogeny and sex in the venomous elapid snake Pseudonaja affinis

Silke G.C. Cleuren, Matthew B. Patterson, David P. Hocking, Natalie M. Warburton, Alistair R. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

A predator's preferred prey often changes over the course of its life as it grows from an inexperienced juvenile through to a sexually mature adult. For species with highly specialised feeding strategies, this may require its anatomy to change over the course of its life. The dugite (Pseudonaja affinis, Günther 1872) is a venomous snake from Australia that displays such a diet shift, with juveniles feeding on small reptiles, while adults mainly target mammals. We examined the morphology of fangs across both sexes and throughout ontogeny using geometric morphometrics and cross-sectional sharpness measurements of key functional regions on these teeth. This highlighted key differences in shape that likely relate to the varied properties of their adult and juvenile diet. We found that juveniles display a more robust and blunter fang, which likely relates to feeding on scaly lizard prey, whereas adults have slender fangs with sharper tips, which reflects their diet of softer mammalian prey. There were also differences between males and females, with male snakes having significantly more slender fangs than females, which might be an indication of niche partitioning between the sexes. Using snout-vent length as a proxy for age, we found that the ontogenetic shift in fang shape occurs when P. affinis is around 60 cm long, corresponding with previous studies that found this size to be the moment where these snakes switch from their juvenile to adult diet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-295
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Morphology
Volume283
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Cite this