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Biol Lett. 2007 Jun 22;3(3):296-8.

Dissociation of somatic growth from segmentation drives gigantism in snakes.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, 3359 Mississauga Road N. Mississauga, Ontario L5L1C6, Canada. jason.head@utoronto.ca

Abstract

Body size is significantly correlated with number of vertebrae (pleomerism) in multiple vertebrate lineages, indicating that change in number of body segments produced during somitogenesis is an important factor in evolutionary change in body size, but the role of segmentation in the evolution of extreme sizes, including gigantism, has not been examined. We explored the relationship between body size and vertebral count in basal snakes that exhibit gigantism. Boids, pythonids and the typhlopid genera, Typhlops and Rhinotyphlops, possess a positive relationship between body size and vertebral count, confirming the importance of pleomerism; however, giant taxa possessed fewer than expected vertebrae, indicating that a separate process underlies the evolution of gigantism in snakes. The lack of correlation between body size and vertebral number in giant taxa demonstrates dissociation of segment production in early development from somatic growth during maturation, indicating that gigantism is achieved by modifying development at a different stage from that normally selected for changes in body size.

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