Primary Homologies of the Circumorbital Bones of Snakes

Alessandro Palci, Michael Caldwell

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23 Citations (Scopus)


Some snakes have two circumorbital ossifications that in the current literature are usually referred to as the postorbital and supraorbital. We review the arguments that have been proposed to justify this interpretation and provide counter-arguments that reject those conjectures of primary homology based on the observation of 32 species of lizards and 81 species of snakes (both extant and fossil). We present similarity arguments, both topological and structural, for reinterpretation of the primary homologies of the dorsal and posterior orbital ossifications of snakes. Applying the test of similarity, we conclude that the posterior orbital ossification of snakes is topologically consistent as the homolog of the lacertilian jugal, and that the dorsal orbital ossification present in some snakes (e.g., pythons, Loxocemus, and Calabaria) is the homolog of the lacertilian postfrontal. We therefore propose that the terms postorbital and supraorbital should be abandoned as reference language for the circumorbital bones of snakes, and be replaced with the terms jugal and postfrontal, respectively. The primary homology claim for the snake "postorbital" fails the test of similarity, while the term "supraorbital" is an unnecessary and inaccurate application of the concept of a neomorphic ossification, for an element that passes the test of similarity as a postfrontal. This reinterpretation of the circumorbital bones of snakes is bound to have important repercussions for future phylogenetic analyses and consequently for our understanding of the origin and evolution of snakes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-986
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • Homology
  • Ophidia
  • Osteology
  • Reptilia
  • Serpentes
  • Squamata


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