Sperm aggregations in female Agkistrodon piscivorus (Reptilia:Squamata): A histological and ultrastructural investigation



Upon copulation in female Agkistrodon piscivorus, sperm migrate up the oviduct to sperm storage tubules (SSTs) in the posterior infundibulum. The epithelium of the SSTs is composed of ciliated and secretory cells and differs ultrastructurally from that of the epithelium lining the lumen of the posterior infundibulum. Sperm pass through an area composed primarily of ciliated cells at the opening of each gland before aligning themselves in parallel arrays with their nuclei facing an area composed primarily of secretory cells at the base of the tubules. Sperm are also found embedded inter- and intracellularly in the SSTs. The secretory vacuoles in the SSTs become highly electron dense after the start of the fall mating season along with the synthesis of lipid droplets. Histochemical analysis reveals that the alteration in secretory material density is caused by the production of neutral carbohydrates. Some sperm remain in aggregates in the nonglandular section of the posterior uterus until the time of ovulation. However, ultrastructural evidence indicates these sperm degrade before ovulation. Therefore, sperm in posterior aggregates have no role in fertilization of ovulated ova. The data presented here support the hypothesis that infundibular sperm storage is the mode that snakes utilize to sequester viable sperm until ovulation. J. Morphol., 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.