Document Type




Publication Date



Recent research on the African scincid lizard, Trachylepis ivensi, has significantly expanded the range of known reproductive specializations in reptiles. This species is viviparous and exhibits characteristics previously thought to be confined to therian mammals. In most viviparous squamates, females ovulate large yolk-rich eggs that provide most of the nutrients for development. Typically, their placental components (fetal membranes and uterus) are relatively unspecialized, and similar to their oviparous counterparts. In T. ivensi, females ovulate tiny eggs and provide nutrients for embryonic development almost entirely by placental means. Early in gestation, embryonic tissues invade deeply into maternal tissues and establish an intimate “endotheliochorial” relationship with the maternal blood supply by means of a yolk sac placenta. The presence of such an invasive form of implantation in a squamate reptile is unprecedented and has significant functional and evolutionary implications. Discovery of the specializations of T. ivensiillustrates why the study of a few convenient “animal models” is no substitute for broad-based studies of biological diversity as directed by phylogenetic considerations. Our study also underscores the value of museum collections to studies of biological diversity.


Originally published in the open access journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology 5(2):263-270.

Included in

Biology Commons