Life-history adaptations to arboreality in snakes

Lígia Pizzatto*, Selma M. Almeida-Santos, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)
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If selective forces on locomotor ability and reproductive biology differ among habitats, we expect to see relationships between habitat, morphology, and life-history traits. Comparative (phylogenetically based) analysis of data from 12 pythonid and 12 boid snake species reveals multiple evolutionary shifts in habitat use, notably in the evolution of arboreal habits. Compared to terrestrial and aquatic taxa of the same overall body size, arboreal species have narrower and more laterally compressed bodies and relatively longer tails. Offspring sizes are not affected by arboreality, but presumably reflecting space constraints within their narrow bodies, arboreal species (1) produce smaller clutch sizes relative to maternal body length and (2) have left and right ovaries that overlap little if at all along the length of the body (i.e., the right ovary is positioned anterior to the left ovary) whereas in terrestrial snakes the two ovaries overlap along much of their length. This modification of ovarian morphology in arboreal snakes presumably reduces the degree of bodily distension during vitellogenesis and pregnancy, thus enhancing climbing ability and camouflage among the branches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-366
Number of pages8
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright by the Ecological Society of America. Originally published in Pizzatto, L., Almeida-Santos, S. M., & Shine, R. (2007). Life‐history adaptations to arboreality in snakes. Ecology, 88(2), 359-366.


  • adaptation
  • arboreality
  • Boidae
  • clutch size
  • ovarian position
  • Pythonidae


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