Sexual and seasonal differences in the vomeronasal epithelium of the red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus)



Sexually dimorphic behaviors often are associated with sexually dimorphic neural structures. Perinatal hormonal levels influence structural sexual dimorphism, and seasonal structural changes also can be the result of seasonal hormonal fluctuations. We compared the volume of vomeronasal organs of male and female red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) throughout the year. Odorants are delivered to vomeronasal receptors through nasolabial grooves when salamanders touch the bases of these grooves to objects (nose tapping). Males may locate and identify potential mates through nose tapping during the prolonged breeding season that lasts from October through May. We compared vomeronasal organ data through multiple regression by using total body size, sex, and season as variables that may influence vomeronasal organ volume. Gonads also were examined as an indicator of reproductive status. Total body size and sex significantly affect vomeronasal organ volume; as body size increases, so does vomeronasal organ volume, and males have significantly larger vomeronasal organs than females at all times of the year. During the summer, both males and females have larger vomeronasal organs than at any other time of the year. Summer also is a period of intense foraging and the initiation of a new cycle of gametogenesis. Previous studies of circulating hormone levels in amphibians have shown that the initial stages of gametogenesis correspond to a period of low estradiol and testosterone levels but high gonadotropin-releasing hormone levels. The functional significance of sexual and seasonal differences in the vomeronasal organs of P. cinereus may relate to the neurogenesis of specialized receptors for courtship and mating. © 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.