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Abstract

An understanding of the evolutionary morphology of extraembryonic membranes in reptiles requires information about oviparous as well as viviparous species. We are studying histology and ultrastructure of the extraembryonic membranes of snakes to clarify the evolutionary history of reptilian fetal membranes, including determination of basal (ancestral) ophidian and squamate patterns. Microscopic anatomy of the membranes of oviparous corn snakes (Elaphe guttata) was examined using light and electron microscopy. At mid – development the inner surface of the eggshell is lined by two extraembryonic membranes, the chorioallantois and the omphalallantoic membrane. The chorioallantois consists of a bilayered cuboidal epithelium that overlies the allantoic blood vessels. During development, allantoic capillaries become more abundant, and the chorionic epithelium thins, decreasing the diffusion distance for respiratory gas exchange. The abembryonic pole of the egg is delimited by a bilaminar omphalopleure and isolated yolk mass, the latter of which is lined on its inner face by the allantois. The isolated yolk mass regresses developmentally, and patches of yolk droplets become isolated and surrounded by allantoic blood vessels. By late development, the abembryonic hemisphere has been fully vascularized by allantoic vessels, forming a “secondary chorioallantois.” With regard to its extraembryonic membranes, Elaphe gutatta is similar to viviparous snakes. However, this species exhibits features that have not previously been reported among squamates, perhaps reflecting its oviparous reproductive habits. Morphological evidence for the uptake of eggshell material by epithelia of the chorion and omphalopleure suggests that the potential for absorption by extraembryonic membranes predates the origin of viviparity. J. Exp. Zool. 299A:48–58 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.