Novel phenotypes are often linked to major ecological transitions during evolution. Here, we describe for the first time an unusual network of large blood vessels in the head of the sea snake Hydrophis cyanocinctus. MicroCT imaging and histology reveal an intricate modified cephalic vascular network (MCVN) that underlies a broad area of skin between the snout and the roof of the head. It is mostly composed of large veins and sinuses and converges posterodorsally into a large vein (sometimes paired) that penetrates the skull through the parietal bone. Endocranially, this blood vessel leads into the dorsal cerebral sinus, and from there, a pair of large veins depart ventrally to enter the brain. We compare the condition observed in H. cyanocinctus with that of other elapids and discuss the possible functions of this unusual vascular network. Sea snakes have low oxygen partial pressure in their arterial blood that facilitates cutaneous respiration, potentially limiting the availability of oxygen to the brain. We conclude that this novel vascular structure draining directly to the brain is a further elaboration of the sea snakes' cutaneous respiratory anatomy, the most likely function of which is to provide the brain with an additional supply of oxygen.
Bibliographical note© 2019 The Authors.Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
- Cutaneous respiration
- Head circulation
- Parietal foramen
- Sea snakes