Endless forms most beautiful: the evolution of ophidian oral glands, including the venom system, and the use of appropriate terminology for homologous structures
The differentiated serous-secreting dental glands of caenophidian snakes are diverse in form despite their developmental homology. This variation makes the elucidation of their evolutionary history a complex task. In addition, some authors identify as many as ten discrete types/subtypes of ophidian oral gland. Over the past decade and a half, molecular systematics and toxinology have deepened our understanding of the evolution of these fascinating and occasionally enigmatic structures. This paper includes a comprehensive examination of ophidian oral gland structure and (where possible) function, as well as new data on rictal glands and their associated anatomy. Following this, appropriate use of terminology, especially that pertaining to homologous structures (including the controversial “venom gland” vs “Duvernoy’s gland” debate), is considered. An interpretation of the evolutionary history of the ophidian venom system, drawing on recent results from molecular systematics, toxinology and palaeontology, concludes the paper.