The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 58: 895 - 908 (2014)

Vol 58, Issue 10-11-12

Special Issue: Developmental Herpetology

Digit evolution in gymnophthalmid lizards

Published: 2 July 2015

Juliana G. Roscito*,1, Pedro M.S. Nunes2 and Miguel T. Rodrigues1

1Departamento de Zoologia, Instituto de Biociências, Universidade de São Paulo-SP and 2Departamento de Zoologia, Centro de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Brazil


The tetrapod limb is a highly diverse structure, and reduction or loss of this structure accounts for many of the limb phenotypes observed within species. Squamate reptiles are one of the many tetrapod lineages in which the limbs have been greatly modified from the pentadactyl generalized pattern, including different degrees of reduction in the number of limb elements to complete limblessness. Even though limb reduction is widespread, the evolutionary and developmental mechanisms involved in the formation of reduced limb morphologies remains unclear. In this study, we present an overview of limb morphology within the microteiid lizard group Gymnophthalmidae, focusing on digit arrangement. We show that there are two major groups of limb-reduced gymnophthalmids. The first group is formed by lizard-like (and frequently pentadactyl) species, in which minor reductions (such as the loss of 1-2 phalanges mainly in digits I and V) are the rule; these morphologies generally correspond to those seen in other squamates. The second group is formed by species showing more drastic losses, which can include the absence of an externally distinct limb in adults. We also present the expression patterns of Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) in the greatly reduced fore and hindlimb of a serpentiform gymnophthalmid. Our discussion focuses on identifying shared patterns of limb reduction among tetrapods, and explaining these patterns and the morphological variation within the gymnophthalmids based on current knowledge of the molecular signaling pathways that coordinate limb development.


limb reduction, reptiles, morphological evolution, limb development

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