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Functional morphology and evolution of the feeding apparatus of blindsnakes (Serpentes: Scolecophidia)

Nathan Jeremy Kley, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Most recent phylogenetic analyses of snakes have recognized two major clades within Serpentes: Alethinophidia and Scolecophidia. Alethinophidians feed predominantly on relatively large vertebrate prey, which they transport into and through the mouth via reciprocating ratcheting movements of the toothed palatopterygoid jaw arches. In contrast, scolecophidians are small-prey specialists, feeding almost exclusively on small arthropods. In addition, these diminutive, fossorial snakes lack many of the key morphological features which underlie the feeding mechanisms of alethinophidians, such as toothed palatopterygoid jaw arches and a distensible lower jaw. However, the functional significance of these morphological differences has remained poorly understood because there have been no detailed descriptions of feeding behavior in Scolecophidia. ^ I used magnified high-speed videography, videofluoroscopy, and standard histological and gross morphological preparations to study the functional morphology of the feeding apparatus in representatives of two families of Scolecophidia, Leptotyphlopidae and Typhlopidae. In Leptotyphlops (Leptotyphlopidae), a mandibular raking mechanism is used to capture, ingest and transport prey. In this mechanism, the toothed anterior portions of the mandibular rami are rotated medially about the intramandibular joints in a bilaterally synchronous fashion. In contrast, Typhlops and Rhinotyphlops (Typhlopidae) feed via a maxillary raking mechanism, in which asynchronous rotations of the toothed maxillae are used to drag prey into and through the mouth. Both mandibular raking and maxillary raking involve exceptionally rapid (3–5 Hz) movements of the tooth-bearing elements of the jaws, thereby facilitating the ingestion of large numbers of small prey within relatively brief periods of time. ^

Subject Area

Morphology|Animal Physiology|Zoology

Recommended Citation

Kley, Nathan Jeremy, "Functional morphology and evolution of the feeding apparatus of blindsnakes (Serpentes: Scolecophidia)" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027220.