Reproduction in the pitviper Bothrops jararacussu: large females increase their reproductive output while small males increase their potential to mate

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Reproductive traits vary widely within and among snake species, and are influenced by a range of factors. However, additional studies are needed on several species, especially on tropical snake faunas, to fully understand the patterns of reproductive variation in snakes. Here, we characterized the reproductive biology of B. jararacussu from southeastern and southern Brazil. We combined macroscopic and microscopic examinations of the reproductive system of museum specimens with observations of free-ranging snakes to characterize size at sexual maturity, sexual size dimorphism (SSD), reproductive output, and male and female reproductive cycles. We compared our data with published literature and discuss the factors that may play a role in shaping the reproductive patterns in the species and the genus. Bothrops jararacussu shares several characteristics with its congeners such as autumn mating season, obligatory sperm storage in the female reproductive tract, seasonal timing of parturition (summer-autumn), female-biased SSD, maturity at larger body sizes in females, and a positive relationship between body size and litter size. These characteristics seem phylogenetically conserved in Bothrops. On the other hand, B. jararacussu exhibits some unique characteristics such as a high degree of SSD (one of the highest values recorded in snakes), a large female body size, and a large litter and offspring size, which are among the largest recorded in the genus. Moreover, larger females reproduce more frequently than smaller conspecifics. These characteristics may be collectively interpreted as the result of a strong selection for increased fecundity. Other peculiarities of the species include an asynchrony between spermiogenesis (summer-autumn) and the peak of SSK hypertrophy (autumn to spring) and a prolonged production of SSK granules. Because SSK hypertrophy and mating are androgen-dependent in snakes, the prolonged SSK hypertrophy suggests that male B. jararacussu may prolong their potential to mate (compared with its congeners), which may increase their reproductive success. Our results and previous literature collectively suggest that, in Bothrops, the evolution of SSD is driven by fecundity selection, variation in reproductive output is influenced by variation in female body size, and the timing of spermiogenesis is influenced by other factors in addition to temperature. We also suggest that male Bothrops have undergone multiple evolutionary shifts in the timing of spermiogenesis.
Silva KMP, Braz HBP, Braz KNK, Marques OAV, Almeida-Santos SM. Reproduction in the pitviper Bothrops jararacussu: large females increase their reproductive output while small males increase their potential to mate. Zoology. 2020 Oct;142:125816. doi:10.1016/j.zool.2020.125816.
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