Venom complexity in a pitviper produced by facultative parthenogenesis

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  • Juan J. Calvete
    Instituto de Biomedicina de Valencia
  • Nicholas R. Casewell
    Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • U Hernandez-Guzman
    Instituto de Biomedicina de Valencia
  • S Quesada-Bernat
    Instituto de Biomedicina de Valencia
  • Libia Sanz
    Instituto de Biomedicina de Valencia
  • D.R. Rokyta
    Florida State University
  • Darren Storey
    School of Biological Sciences, Bangor University
  • L.O. Albulescu
    Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
  • Wolfgang Wuster
  • Charles F. Smith
    Chiricahua Desert Museum
  • G.W. Schuett
    Chiricahua Desert Museum
  • Warren Booth
    University of Tulsa
Facultative parthenogenesis (FP) is asexual reproduction in plant and animal species that would otherwise reproduce sexually. This process in vertebrates typically results from automictic development (likely terminal fusion) and is phylogenetically widespread. In squamate reptiles and chondrichthyan fishes, FP has been reported to occur in nature and can result in the production of reproductively viable offspring; suggesting that it is of ecological and evolutionary significance. However, terminal fusion automixis is believed to result in near genome-wide reductions in heterozygosity; thus, FP seems likely to affect key phenotypic characters, yet this remains almost completely unstudied. Snake venom is a complex phenotypic character primarily used to subjugate prey and is thus tightly linked to individual fitness. Surprisingly, the composition and function of venom produced by a parthenogenetic pitviper exhibits a high degree of similarity to that of its mother and conspecifics from the same population. Therefore, the apparent loss of allelic diversity caused by FP appears unlikely to have a significant impact on the prey-capturing ability of this snake. Accordingly, the pitviper offspring produced by FP retained complex phenotypic characteristics associated with fitness. This result reinforces the potential ecological and evolutionary importance of FP and questions our understanding of the inheritance of venom-associated genes.


  • Parthenogenesis, Facultative parthenogenesis, venom, Automixis, Phenotype
Original languageEnglish
Article number11539 (2018)
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

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