Morphology and Putative Function of the Colon and Cloaca of Marine and Freshwater Snakes

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Journal of Morphology






John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Among tetrapods, evidence for postrenal modification of the urine by the distal digestive tract (including the colon and cloaca) is highly variable. Birds and bladderless reptiles are of interest because the colon and cloaca represent the only sites from which water and ions can be reclaimed from the urine secreted by the kidney. For animals occupying desiccating environments (e.g., deserts and marine environments), postrenal modification of the urine may directly contribute to the maintenance of hypo-osmotic body fluids. We compared the morphology and distribution of key proteins in the colon, cloaca, and urogenital ducts of watersnakes from marine (Nerodia clarkii clarkii) and freshwater (Nerodia fasciata) habitats. Specifically, we examined the epithelia of each tissue for evidence of mucus production by examining the distribution of mucopolysaccharides, and for evidence of water/ion regulation by examining the distribution of Na+ /K+ -ATPase (NKA), Na+ /K+ /Cl(-) cotransporter (NKCC), and aquaporin 3 (AQP3). NKCC localized to the basolateral epithelium of the colon, urodeal sphincter, and proctodeum, consistent with a role in secretion of Na+, Cl- , and K+ from the tissue, but NKA was not detected in the colon or any compartment of the cloaca. Interestingly, NKA was detected in the basolateral epithelium of the ureters, suggesting the urothelium may play a role in active ion transport. AQP3 was detected in the ureters and coprodeal complex, consistent with a role in urinary and fecal dehydration or, potentially, in the production of the watery component of the mucus secreted by the coprodeal complex. Since no differences in general cloacal morphology, production of mucus, or the distribution of ion transporters/water channels were detected between the two species, cloacal osmoregulation may either be regulated by proteins not examined in this study or may not be responsible for the differential success of N. c. clarkii and N. fasciata in marine habitats.

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