Maternal body size influences offspring immune configuration in an oviparous snake

Gregory P. Brown*, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


Like most ectothermic vertebrates, keelback snakes (Tropidonophis mairii) do not exhibit parental care. Thus, offspring must possess an immune system capable of dealing with challenges such as pathogens, without assistance from an attendant parent. We know very little about immune system characteristics of neonatal reptiles, including the magnitude of heritability and other maternal influences. To identify sources of variation in circulating white blood cell (WBC) concentrations and differentials, we examined blood smears from 246 hatchling snakes and their field-caught mothers. WBC concentrations were lower in hatchlings than in adults, and hatchlings had more basophils and fewer azurophils than adults. A hatchling keelback’s WBC differential was also influenced by its sex and body size. Although hatchling WBC measures exhibited negligible heritability, they were strongly influenced by maternal body size and parasite infection (but not by maternal body condition, relative clutch mass or time in captivity). Larger mothers produced offspring with more azurophils and fewer lymphocytes. The mechanisms and consequences of WBC variation are currently unknown, but if these maternal effects enhance offspring fitness, the impact of maternal body size on reproductive success may be greater than expected simply from allometric increases in the numbers and sizes of progeny.

Original languageEnglish
Article number160041
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • leucogram
  • maternal effects
  • immune cells


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