Journal of Biosciences

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 181–190 | Cite as

The structure of the nasal chemosensory system in squamate reptiles. 2. Lubricatory capacity of the vomeronasal organ

  • Susan J. RehorekEmail author
  • Bruce T. Firth
  • Mark N. Hutchinson


The vomeronasal organ is a poorly understood accessory olfactory organ, present in many tetrapods. In mammals, amphibians and lepidosaurian reptiles, it is an encapsulated structure with a central, fluid-filled lumen. The morphology of the lubricatory system of the vomeronasal organ (the source of this fluid) varies among classes, being either intrinsic (mammalian and caecilian amphibian vomeronasal glands) or extrinsic (anuran and urodele nasal glands). In the few squamate reptiles thus far examined, there are no submucosal vomeronasal glands. In this study, we examined the vomeronasal organs of several species of Australian squamates using histological, histochemical and ultrastructural techniques, with the goal of determining the morphology of the lubricatory system in the vomeronasal organ. Histochemically, the fluid within the vomeronasal organ of all squamates is mucoserous, though it is uncertain whether mucous and serous constituents constitute separate components. The vomeronasal organ produces few secretory granules intrinsically, implying an extrinsic source for the luminal fluid. Of three possible candidates, the Harderian gland is the most likely extrinsic source of this secretion.


Harderian gland nasolacrimal duct squamate reptiles vomeronasal organ 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Adams D R 1992 Fine structure of the vomeronasal and septal olfactory epithelia and of glandular structures; Microsc. Res. Tech. 23 86–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altner H, Müller W and Brachner I 1970 The ultrastructure of the vomeronasal organ in reptilia; Z. Zellforsch. 105 107–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andres K H 1969 Der olfaktorisches Saum der Katze; Z. Zellforsch. Mikrosk. Anat. 96 250–274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Badenhorst A 1978 The development and the phylogeny of the organ of Jacobson and the tentacular apparatus of Ichthyophis glutinosus (Linné); Ann. Univ. Stellen. Serie 2A 1 1–26Google Scholar
  5. Bannister L H 1968 Fine structure of the sensory endings in the vomeronasal organ of the Slow worm Anguis fragilis; Nature (London) 217 275–276CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barka T and Anderson P J 1965 Histochemistry: Theory, practice and bibliography (New York: Harper and Row)Google Scholar
  7. Bellairs A d’A and Boyd J D 1947 The lachrymal apparatus in lizards and snakes-1. The brille, the orbital glands, lachrymal canaliculi and origin of the lachrymal duct; Proc. Zool. Soc. London 117 81–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bellairs A d’A and Boyd J D 1950 The lachrymal apparatus in lizards and snakes-2. The anterior part of the lachrymal duct and its relationship with the palate and with the nasal and vomeronasal organs; Proc. Zool. Soc. London 120 269–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chieffi G, Chieffi-Baccari G, Di Matteo L, d’Istria M, Marmorino C, Minucci S and Varriale B 1992 The Harderian gland of amphibians and reptiles; in Harderian glands: Porphyrin metabolism, behavioural and endocrine effects (eds) S M Webb, R A Hoffman, M L Puig-Domingo and R Reiter (Berlin: Springer-Verlag) pp 91–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cooper J G and Bhatnager K P 1976 Comparative anatomy of the vomeronasal complex in bats; J. Anat. 122 571–601PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Cooper W E Jr 1996 Preliminary reconstructions of nasal chemosensory evolution in squamata; Amphibia-Reptilia. 17 395–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dawley E M and Bass A H 1988 Organization of the vomeronasal organ in a Plethodontid salamander; J. Morphol. 198 243–255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dial B E and Schwenk K 1996 Olfaction and predation detection in Coleonyx brevis (Squamata: Eublepharidae), with comments on the functional significance of buccal pulsing in Geckos; J. Exp. Zool. 276 415–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Døving K B, Trotier D, Rosin J-F and Holley A 1993 Functional architecture of the vomeronasal organ of the frog (genus Rana); Acta Zool. 74 173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Drury R A B and Wallington E A 1980 Carleton’s histological technique (Oxford: Oxford University Press)Google Scholar
  16. Gabe M and Saint Girons H 1976 Contribution a la morpholige compareé des fosses nasales et de leur annexes chez les Lépidosauriens; Mém. Mus. Nat. Hist. Nat. A98 1–87Google Scholar
  17. Getchell M L and Getchell T V 1992 Fine structural aspects of secretion and extrinsic innervation in the olfactory mucosa; Microsc. Res. Tech. 23 111–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Getchell M L, Rafols J A and Getchell T V 1984a Histological and histochemical components of the salamander olfactory mucosa: effects of isoproterenol and olfactory nerve section; Anat. Rec. 208 553–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Getchell T V, Margolis F L and Getchell M L 1984b Perireceptor and receptor events in vertebrate olfaction; Prog. Neurobiol. 23 317–345CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Getchell T V, Su Z and Getchell M L 1993 Mucous domains: microchemical heterogeneity in the mucociliary complex of the olfactory epithelium; The molecular basis of smell and taste transduction (Ciba Foundation Symposium 179) (Chichester: Wiley) pp 27–50Google Scholar
  21. Greer A E 1989 The biology and evolution of Australian lizards (Norton: Surrey Beatty)Google Scholar
  22. Halpern M 1992 Nasal chemical senses in reptiles: Structure and function; in Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 18. Physiology E (eds) C Gans and D Crews (Chicago: University of Chicago) pp 424–532Google Scholar
  23. Kluge A G 1987 Cladistic relationships in the Gekkonoidea (Squamata; Sauria); Misc. Publ. Univ. Mich. 173 1–54Google Scholar
  24. Kratzing J E 1975 The fine structure of the olfactory and vomeronasal organs of a lizard (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides); Cell Tissue Res. 156 239–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Müller H, Drenkhahn D and Haase E 1979 Vergleichend quantitative und ultrastrukturelle Untersuchungen am Geruchsorgan von Hausaubenrassen; Z. Mikrosk. Anat. Forsch. 93 888–900PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Ravetto C 1964 Alcian blue-Alcian yellow: a new method for the identification of different acid groups; J. Histochem. Cytochem. 12 44–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rehorek S J 1992 A comparative morphological analysis of Australian scincid Harderian glands, Honours thesis, Department of Anatomy and Histology, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  28. Rehorek S J 1997a A potential role of the squamate Harderian gland in vomerolfaction, Ph.D thesis, Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  29. Rehorek S J 1997b Squamate Harderian gland: An overview; Anat. Rec. 248 301–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rehorek S J, Hillenius W J, Quan W and Halpern M 1999 XXI meeting for the Association for Chemoreceptive Sciences, Sarasota, 14–18 April 1999Google Scholar
  31. Saint Girons H 1982 Histologie compareé des glandes orbitaires des Lépidosauriens; Ann. Sci. Nat. Zool. Paris 4 171–191Google Scholar
  32. Saint Girons H 1988 Les glandes céphaliques exocrines des Reptiles. I - Données anatomiques et histologiques; Ann. Sci. Nat. Zool. Paris 9 221–255Google Scholar
  33. Schwenk K 1993a Are geckoes olfactory specialists?; J. Zool. London 229 289–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schwenk K 1993b The evolution of chemoreception in squamate reptiles: a phylogenetic approach; Brain Behav. Evol. 41 124–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Slaby O 1984 Morphogenesis of the nasal apparatus in a member of the genus Chameleon L. Morphogenesis of the nasal capsule, the nasal epithelial tube and the organ of Jacobson in Sauropsida VIII; Folia Morphol. (Prague) 32 225–246Google Scholar
  36. Takami S, Getchell M L and Getchell T V 1995 Resolution of sensory and mucoid glycoconjugates with terminal a-galactose residues in the mucomicrovillar complex of the vomeronasal sensory epithelium by dual confocal laser scanning microscopy; Cell Tissue Res. 280 211–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Takami S and Hirosawa K 1987 Light microscopic observations of the vomeronasal organ on Habu, Trimeresurus flavoviridis; Jpn. J. Exp. Med. 57 163–174Google Scholar
  38. Takami S and Hirosawa K 1990 Electron microscopic observations on the vomeronasal sensory epithelium of a crotaline snake, Trimerusurus flavoviridis; J. Morphol. 205 45–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wang D and Halpern M 1980 Light and electron microscopic observations on the normal structure of the vomeronasal organ of garter snakes; J. Morphol. 164 47–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Indian Academy of Sciences 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan J. Rehorek
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bruce T. Firth
    • 1
  • Mark N. Hutchinson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anatomical SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Herpetology SectionSouth Australian MuseumAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations