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Keywords:

  • ureter;
  • cloaca;
  • coprodeum;
  • urodeum;
  • tinamous;
  • ratites

Abstract

Cloacas of 67 avian species, of both sexes, from various habitats and differing dietary habits, were examined macro- and microscopically to investigate possible variation in the location of the ureteral openings. Differing from most birds studied, in adult male Rhea americana and several tinamous species the ureters were found to open into the coprodeum. In these species the urodeum receives only the vas deferens or oviduct. Similarly, in crocodiles Caiman crocodilus yacare, but not in lizards Tropidurus montanus and snakes Crotalus durissus terrificus, the ureters empty into the coprodeum. This similarity between ancient birds (ratites and tinamous) and crocodiles may indicate a primitive character linking reptiles and birds. This unusual position of the ureteral orifice can represent an adaptation to facilitate urine collection into the coprodeum and large intestine. Another possibility is that this variation in ureter position is a male reproductive strategy to avoid the mixture of urine and semen in the cloaca. There were no evident correlations between the location of the ureteral openings and the birds' habitat, diet, or histology of the coprodeal mucosa. The occurrence of a phallus in eight species of birds was detected, as well as a peculiar vascularization related to the coprodeal epithelium of anseriformes. Together, these data add to the scarce information about the morphophysiology of the avian cloaca, and also contribute to clarify avian phylogenetic linkages. J. Morphol. 260:234–246, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.