Novel Placental Structure in the Mexican Gerrhonotine Lizard, Mesaspis viridiflava (Lacertilia; Anguidae)

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The evolution of viviparity alters the physical relationship between mothers and offspring and the prevalence of viviparity among squamate reptiles presents an opportunity to uncover patterns in the evolution of placental structure. Understanding the breadth of this diversity is limited because studies of placental structure and function have emphasized a limited number of lineages. We studied placental ontogeny using light microscopy for an embryological series of the Mexican gerrhonotine lizard, Mesaspis viridiflava. This species develops an elaborate yolk sac placenta, an omphaloplacenta, which receives vascular support arising in a structure known only from other gerrhonotine lizards. A prominent feature of the omphaloplacenta is a zone of uterine and embryonic epithelial cell hyperplasia located at the upper shoulder of the yolk mass, often extending above the yolk mass. The omphaloplacenta covers more than one-half of the surface area of maternal—embryonic contact. The chorioallantoic placenta has a more restricted distribution because the allantois remains in the embryonic hemisphere of the egg throughout development and lies internal to the vascular support for the omphaloplacenta in areas where they overlap. The structural profile of the chorioallantoic placenta indicates a potential for respiratory exchange and/or hemotrophic nutritive transport, while that of the omphaloplacenta suggests that nutritive transfer is primarily via histotrophy. An eggshell is present in the earliest embryonic stages examined but regresses relatively early in development. Placental specializations of this species are consistent with a pattern of matrotrophic embryonic nutrition and have evolved in a unique lineage specific developmental pattern.