Disappearance of eggs during gestation in a viviparous snake (Vipera aspis) detected using non-invasive techniques

Xavier Bonnet*, Serge Akoka, Richard Shine, Leandre Pourcelot

*Corresponding author for this work

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The number of eggs released at ovulation may be greater than the number of offspring born, if some of these ovulated eggs and/or embryos disappear during gestation. Although this process can potentially exert significant effects on reproductive output, logistical problems have discouraged studies on the disappearance of eggs and embryos in most kinds of vertebrates. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging and ultrasound Doppler-imaging have not been applied previously to such questions. Using these techniques, we monitored changes in the female's oviduct through gestation in a viviparous snake. We documented a case of disappearance of two ovulated eggs (from a litter of four) in the aspic viper, Vipera aspis. The female ovulated four normal-sized eggs, two of which contained living embryos when examined by NMR and ultrasound Doppler-imaging early in gestation. Subsequent NMR imaging midway through gestation showed the same situation, but a third imaging session immediately prior to parturition revealed that the oviducts contained only the two live embryos. The two nonviable eggs had disappeared. The female gave birth to the two live offspring, with no evidence of any additional material. These data thus offer the strongest evidence so far available for egg disappearance (resorption?) during gestation in reptiles. More generally, NMR imaging offers a valuable tool for investigating processes inside the body cavity, where direct observation is otherwise difficult or impossible. The technique does not require sacrifice of the animals, and hence allows dynamic investigations over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-137
Number of pages9
JournalActa Herpetologica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • ultrasonography
  • gestation
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance imaging
  • reproduction
  • reproductive output
  • snake
  • ultrasound
  • Vipera


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