Sexual dimorphism, ontogeny and static allometry of a semi-fossorial snake (genus Atractus)

Sexual dimorphism in snakes has been mainly evaluated for size and number of some morphological traits, but few studies address on sexual shape dimorphism. Here we evaluated the existence of sexual size and shape dimorphism in the semi-fossorial snake Atractus reticulatus. We use linear and geometric morphometrics to evaluate differences between sexes and among different ontogenetic stages (neonates, juveniles and adults). We have shown that A. reticulatus is sexually dimorphic for some traits such as body length and head shape, with females being larger and having more robust heads than males, but the sexes do not differ in head size. Males and females are sexually dimorphic in head shape even in neonates, suggesting that this differentiation is prenatal. Differences in head shape may be associated with trophic segregation, allowing females to feed on larger prey than males. Body size dimorphism progressively increases throughout the ontogenetic stages, which is possibly related to the late sexual maturation of females and/or different growth rates between the sexes. We also found that males and females shows some sex-specific patterns towards static and ontogenetic allometry, with males showing stronger predictive response on static allometry than females, whereas females have ontogenetic allometry, but males do not. Additionally, the allometric slopes in A. reticulatus between sexes converge by presenting similar shapes as head size increases, an expected result for sexes with similar lifestyles. Further investigation on some physiological and natural history aspects in Atractus will be particularly useful for a better understanding of the significance of the morphological differences found in this study.
Vancouver Citation
2020 July;287:95-104
Keywords
Allometry;  Geometric morphometrics;  Head shape;  Ontogenetic changes;  Sexual shape dimorphism

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