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PLoS One. 2014 Mar 21;9(3):e92617. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0092617. eCollection 2014.

Hypernatremia in Dice snakes (Natrix tessellata) from a coastal population: implications for osmoregulation in marine snake prototypes.

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Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CEBC UMR 7372 CNRS-ULR, Villiers en Bois, France.
Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, NCC "Poda", Burgas, Bulgaria.


The widespread relationship between salt excreting structures (e.g., salt glands) and marine life strongly suggests that the ability to regulate salt balance has been crucial during the transition to marine life in tetrapods. Elevated natremia (plasma sodium) recorded in several marine snakes species suggests that the development of a tolerance toward hypernatremia, in addition to salt gland development, has been a critical feature in the evolution of marine snakes. However, data from intermediate stage (species lacking salt glands but occasionally using salty environments) are lacking to draw a comprehensive picture of the evolution of an euryhaline physiology in these organisms. In this study, we assessed natremia of free-ranging Dice snakes (Natrix tessellata, a predominantly fresh water natricine lacking salt glands) from a coastal population in Bulgaria. Our results show that coastal N. tessellata can display hypernatremia (up to 195.5 mmol x l(-1)) without any apparent effect on several physiological and behavioural traits (e.g., hematocrit, body condition, foraging). More generally, a review of natremia in species situated along a continuum of habitat use between fresh- and seawater shows that snake species display a concomitant tolerance toward hypernatremia, even in species lacking salt glands. Collectively, these data suggest that a physiological tolerance toward hypernatremia has been critical during the evolution of an euryhaline physiology, and may well have preceded the evolution of salt glands.

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