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.
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- maternal effects
- immune cells