Spondyloarthropathy in vertebrae of the aquatic Cretaceous snake Lunaophis aquaticus, and its first recognition in modern snakes
Inflammatory arthritis is documented for the first time in snakes. Ossification of the intervertebral capsule and zygapophyseal joints resulting in segmental vertebral fusion was observed in the aquatic Cretaceous snake Lunaophis aquaticus. Such pathologic alterations are pathognomonic for the spondyloarthropathy form of inflammatory arthritis. A survey of 2144 snakes in recent collections, performed to identify Holocene prevalence, revealed only two occurrences in extant snakes. The findings in Bitis gabonica and Elaphe taeniura were indistinguishable from those noted in Lunaophis aquaticus and identical to those previously recognized in modern varanids. The pathology likely represents a form of reactive arthritis related to enteropathic infection. While the disease probably did not affect general locomotion, its vertebral column position may have compromised mating.
KeywordsSpondyloarthropathy Mesozoic Marine snakes South America Venezuela
Appreciation is expressed to David Dickey, David Kiziriain, Steve Rogers, Kenneth Tighe, and Loren Vonahme for hosting access to the collections they curate, and to members of the Evolutionary Morphology and Palaeobiology group at the University of Zurich for generous collaboration.
This paper was supported by Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas grant to A.M.A (CONICET-PIP 112-201501-00065), Swiss National Science Foundation grant (31003A-149605, awarded to Marcelo Sánchez-Villagra), and Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (ECF-2017-360, awarded to J.M.N).
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