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Urates of colubroid snakes are different from those of boids and pythonids


Thornton, Alyssa M.


Department of Chemistry

Georgetown University

Washington, District of Columbia USA


Schuett, Gordon W.

Department of Biology ǀ Neuroscience Institute

Georgia State University

Atlanta, Georgia USA


Chiricahua Desert Museum

Rodeo, New Mexico USA


Swift, Jennifer A.

Department of Chemistry

Georgetown University

Washington, District of Columbia USA


Uricotelic species, such as squamate reptiles, birds and insects, effectively eliminate nitrogen as uric acid in a solid form commonly called urates. Observations made over a decade suggested that the voided urates produced by colubroids (modern snake species) exhibit remarkable differences from those of boids and pythons (ancient snake species). Here, we compare the urates generated by eight captive snake species fed the same diet. Although all fresh urates were wet at the time of excretion, those produced by modern snakes dried to a powdery solid, whereas those of ancient species dry to a rock-hard mass that tightly adhere to surfaces. Powder X-ray diffraction and infrared spectroscopy analyses performed on voided urates produced by five modern and three ancient snakes confirmed their underlying chemical and structural differences. Urates excreted by ancient snakes were amorphous uric acid, whereas urates from modern snakes consisted primarily of ammonium acid urate, with some uric acid dihydrate. These compositional differences indicate that snakes have more than one mechanism to manage nitrogenous waste. Why different species use different nitrogen-handling pathways is not yet known, but the answer might be related to key differences in metabolism, physiology or, in the case of ancient snakes, the potential use of urates in social communication.


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