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Comparative skull anatomy of terrestrial and crevice-dwelling Trachylepis skinks (Squamata: Scincidae) with a survey of resources in scincid cranial osteology.

Comparative skull anatomy of terrestrial and crevice-dwelling Trachylepis skinks (Squamata: Scincidae) with a survey of resources in scincid cranial osteology.
Author Information (click to view)

Paluh DJ, Bauer AM,


Paluh DJ, Bauer AM, (click to view)

Paluh DJ, Bauer AM,

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PloS one 2017 09 1312(9) e0184414 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0184414
Abstract

Skinks account for more than 25% of all lizard species; however, representatives of fewer than a quarter of all species have been characterized osteologically. All but a few of the available cranial descriptions concentrate solely on characters that can be seen externally on the intact skull. Mabuyid skinks of the genus Trachylepis are the dominant, fully limbed skinks in Sub-Saharan Africa, and nearly all species have the same generalized body plan. Although a few rock crevice-dwelling species possess slight body depression, extreme dorsoventral depression is observed only in Trachylepis laevis. We investigated the detailed skull anatomy of three Trachylepis skinks (T. laevis, T. sulcata, and T. gonwouoi, a recently described species allied to T. affinis) using high-resolution X-ray micro-computed tomography. Our goals were to review the scincid cranial osteology literature in a phylogenetic context, provide a detailed anatomical atlas for the mabuyid lineage, and investigate the morphological adaptations of the highly modified T. laevis. Our results demonstrate that there is significant morphological variation between these three taxa, including the loss and fusion of structures, as well as changes in the shape, scale, and relationship between individual elements. Trachylepis laevis possesses several osteological modifications that have produced a reducton in head depth that are likely functional consequences of extreme rupicolous habits, including a flat skull roof, many strongly recumbent elements, and a depressed neurocranium.We hypothesize these modifications may correspond to descreased bite force and increased capabilities of cranial kinesis. Our study is the first element-by-element description of a skink using computed tomography technology.

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