One hundred million years of skin feeding? Extended parental care in a Neotropical caecilian (Amphibia: Gymnophiona)

Mark Wilkinson, Alexander Kupfer, Rafael Marques-Porto, Hilary Jeffkins, Marta M Antoniazzi, Carlos Jared

Abstract

Maternal dermatophagy, the eating of maternal skin by offspring, is an unusual form of parental investment involving co-evolved specializations of both maternal skin and offspring dentition, which has been recently discovered in an African caecilian amphibian. Here we report the discovery of this form of parental care in a second, distantly related Neotropical species Siphonops annulatus, where it is characterized by the same syndrome of maternal and offspring specializations. The detailed similarities of skin feeding in different caecilian species provide strong evidence of its homology, implying its presence in the last common ancestor of these species. Biogeographic considerations, the separation of Africa and South American land masses and inferred timescales of amphibian diversification all suggest that skin feeding is an ancient form of parental care in caecilians, which has probably persisted in multiple lineages for more than 100 Myr. These inferences support the hypotheses that (i) maternal dermatophagy is widespread in oviparous direct-developing caecilians, and (ii) that viviparous caecilians that feed on the hypertrophied maternal oviduct evolved from skin-feeding ancestors. In addition to skin-feeding, young S. annulatus were observed to congregate around, and imbibe liquid exuded from, the maternal cloacal opening.

Footnotes

    • Received April 17, 2008.
    • Accepted May 15, 2008.
View Full Text