, Volume 136, Issue 1, pp 107–130 | Cite as

Endless forms most beautiful: the evolution of ophidian oral glands, including the venom system, and the use of appropriate terminology for homologous structures

  • Timothy N. W. Jackson
  • Bruce Young
  • Garth Underwood
  • Colin J. McCarthy
  • Elazar Kochva
  • Nicolas Vidal
  • Louise van der Weerd
  • Rob Nabuurs
  • James Dobson
  • Daryl Whitehead
  • Freek J. Vonk
  • Iwan Hendrikx
  • Chris Hay
  • Bryan G. Fry
Original paper


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.


Snake Venom Evolution Anatomy Terminology Function 



This paper is dedicated to the memory of Garth Underwood. TNJ was funded by a UQ PhD Scholarship and BGF was funded by the Australian Research Council. We thank Thomas Oerther and Dieter Gross for their MRI help.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Animal rights statement

This paper complied with the relevant legislation surrounding animal use, and all work was done on previously collected, preserved specimens in collections, and thus, animal ethics approval was not needed.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy N. W. Jackson
    • 1
  • Bruce Young
    • 2
  • Garth Underwood
    • 3
  • Colin J. McCarthy
    • 3
  • Elazar Kochva
    • 4
  • Nicolas Vidal
    • 5
  • Louise van der Weerd
    • 6
    • 7
  • Rob Nabuurs
    • 6
    • 7
  • James Dobson
    • 1
    • 8
  • Daryl Whitehead
    • 8
  • Freek J. Vonk
    • 9
  • Iwan Hendrikx
    • 1
  • Chris Hay
    • 1
  • Bryan G. Fry
    • 1
  1. 1.Venom Evolution Lab, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Anatomy, Kirksville College of Osteopathic MedicineA. T. Still University of Health SciencesKirksvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Life SciencesNatural History MuseumLondonUK
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  5. 5.Département Systématique et Evolution, ISYEB, UMR7205 MNHN-CNRS-UPMC-EPHEMuséum National d’Histoire NaturelleParisFrance
  6. 6.Department of RadiologyLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenThe Netherlands
  7. 7.Department of Human GeneticsLeiden University Medical CenterLeidenThe Netherlands
  8. 8.School of Biomedical SciencesUniversity of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  9. 9.Naturalis Biodiversity CenterLeidenThe Netherlands

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