Nav: Home

Tropical sea snake uses its head to 'breathe'

September 03, 2019

Humans use a snorkel and fish have gills. Now researchers have found a sea snake which uses a complex system of blood vessels in its head to draw in extra oxygen when it dives and swims underwater.

During submersion, the blue-banded sea snake (Hydrophis cyanocinctus) is now thought to use an extensive vascular network across the top of its head to absorb oxygen from the surrounding water.

"For the first time, we describe this modified cephalic vascular network (MCVN) that provides this sea snake with a complementary supply of oxygen to the brain during submersion," says lead researcher, Flinders University evolutionary researcher Dr Alessandro Palci, who is a visiting researcher at the University of Alberta, Canada.

"Basically we found that this sea snake uses the top of its head as a gill to breathe underwater," says Dr Palci.

The highly venomous blue-banded sea snakes, which live in tropical waters of Southeast Asia, are found on coral reefs and warm coastal waters. Sea snakes must surface regularly to breathe but are among the most completely aquatic of all air-breathing vertebrates.

The vascular network, located just under the skin of the snout and forehead of the snake, surprised researchers in their new study.

"While the MCVN is structurally very different from the gills of fish and amphibians, its function is nonetheless quite similar, in that it provides a large surface area packed with oxygen-depleted blood vessels that can efficiently take in oxygen from the surrounding water," Dr Palci says.

ARC Future Fellow Dr Kate Sanders, from the University of Adelaide School of Biological Sciences, says the latest study expands understanding of the unusual cutaneous respiratory anatomy of sea snakes.

"Sea snakes have been extremely successful at adapting to a fully marine lifestyle, including the ability to absorb oxygen through their skin," Dr Sanders says.

"Now we have discovered this interesting feature in H. cyanocinctus by using microCT scans and computer modelling.

"This feature probably allows these sea snakes to stay submerged for longer periods of time, which further research can test."

Mr Palci, with experts from the South Australian Museum, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, and University of Adelaide, modelled the snake's special feature.
-end-
ARC funding support for Dr Palci, Dr Sanders and Matthew Flinders Fellow Professor Mike Lee, based at the SA Museum, as well as Flinders University supported the research.

'Novel vascular plexus in the head of a sea snake (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae) revealed by high-resolution computed tomography and histology' (2019) by A Palci, RS Seymour, C Van Nguyen, MN Hutchinson, MSY Lee and KL Sanders - from Flinders University, University of Adelaide, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, and South Australian Museum - will be published in Royal Society Open Science (DOI: 10.1098/rsos.191099).

Flinders University

Related Blood Vessels Articles:

When blood vessels are overly permeable
In Germany alone there are around 400,000 patients who suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel diseases.
Nicotine-free e-cigarettes can damage blood vessels
A Penn study reveals single instance of vaping immediately leads to reduced vascular function.
Creating blood vessels on demand
Researchers discover new cell population that can help in regenerative processes.
Self-sustaining, bioengineered blood vessels could replace damaged vessels in patients
A research team has bioengineered blood vessels that safely and effectively integrated into the native circulatory systems of 60 patients with end-stage kidney failure over a four-year phase 2 clinical trial.
Found: the missing ingredient to grow blood vessels
Researchers have discovered an ingredient vital for proper blood vessel formation that explains why numerous promising treatments have failed.
How sickled red blood cells stick to blood vessels
An MIT study describes how sickled red blood cells get stuck in tiny blood vessels of patients with sickle-cell disease.
Like a zipper -- how cells form new blood vessels
Blood vessel formation relies on the ability of vascular cells to move while remaining firmly connected to each other.
Blood vessels instruct brain development
The group of Amparo Acker-Palmer (Buchmann Institute of Molecular Life Sciences and the Institute of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Goethe University) reported in a Research Article in the last issue of the journal Science a novel function of blood vessels in orchestrating the proper development of neuronal cellular networks in the brain.
Texas A&M team develops new way to grow blood vessels
Formation of new blood vessels, a process also known as angiogenesis, is one of the major clinical challenges in wound healing and tissue implants.
Novel antioxidant makes old blood vessels seem young again
Older adults who take an antioxidant that specifically targets mitochondria see age-related changes in blood vessels reverse by the equivalent of 15 to 20 years within six weeks, a new study shows.
More Blood Vessels News and Blood Vessels Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.