Viviparity does not affect the numbers and sizes of reptile offspring

Shai Meiri*, Anat Feldman, Rachel Schwarz, Richard Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    18 Citations (Scopus)


    1. Viviparity (live-bearing) has independently evolved from oviparity (egg-laying) in more than 100 lineages of squamates (lizards and snakes). 

    2. We might expect consequent shifts in selective forces to affect per-brood reproductive investment (RI = total mass of offspring relative to maternal mass) and in the way in which that output is partitioned (number vs. size of offspring per brood). Based on the assumption that newly born offspring are heavier than eggs, we predicted that live-bearing must entail either increased RI or a reduction in offspring size and/or fecundity. 

    3. However, our phylogenetically controlled analysis of data on 1,259 squamate species revealed no significant differences in mean offspring size, clutch size or RI between oviparous and viviparous squamates. 

    4. We attribute this paradoxical result to (1) strong selection on offspring sizes, unaffected by parity mode, (2) the lack of a larval stage in amniotes, favouring large eggs even in the ancestral oviparous mode and (3) the ability of viviparous females to decrease the mass of uterine embryos by reducing extra-embryonic water stores. 

    5. Our analysis shows that squamate eggs (when laid) weigh about the same as the hatchlings that emerge from them (despite a many-fold increase in embryo mass during incubation). Most of the egg mass is due to components (such as water stores and the eggshell) not required for oviductal incubation. That repackaging enables live-born offspring to be accommodated within the mother's body without increasing total litter mass. 

    6. The consequent stasis in reproductive burden during the evolutionary transition from oviparity to viviparity may have facilitated frequent shifts in parity modes.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)360-369
    Number of pages10
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number2
    Early online date4 Dec 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


    • eggs
    • hatchlings
    • live-bearing
    • lizards
    • neonates
    • oviparity
    • snakes


    Dive into the research topics of 'Viviparity does not affect the numbers and sizes of reptile offspring'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this