Melanin deposits associated with the venom glands of snakes

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Title: Melanin deposits associated with the venom glands of snakes
Author: Pough, F. Harvey; Kwiecinski, Gary; Bemis, Willy
Abstract: Melanin deposits in the heads of both true vipers (Viperinae) and pit vipers (Crotalinae) are concentrated over the dorsal and dorsolateral aspects of the venom glands. This pigment may occur in any or all of six sites which include the epidermis, dermis, tissues covering the venom glands, and the interior of the glands themselves. The extreme localization of these melanin deposits suggests that they shield the venom glands from light. Calculations indicate that without such shielding the light energy penetrating the venom glands in the visible and ultraviolet portions of the solar spectrum would damage the venom-synthesizing apparatus and detoxify stored venom. Elapid and hydrophiid snakes have less dense pigment over the venom gland than vipers. Literature reports indicate that elapid venom is less sensitive to photodetoxification than is venom from vipers. Most colubrid snakes, including several with protein-secreting Duvernoy's glands, have little or no melanin associated with the glands. Venomous colubrids in the genera Ahaetulla, Dryophis, Leptophis, and Oxybelis have pigment over the glands as dense as that seen in vipers. Iridophores probably also shield venom glands from radiation. In puff adders and Gaboon vipers (Bitis) there appears to be an ontogenetic change in the shielding of the venom glands from melanocytes in young individuals to iridophores in adults.
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Date: 1978-01

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