Nature 440, 926-929 (13 April 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04403; Received 28 September 2005; Accepted 7 November 2005

Parental investment by skin feeding in a caecilian amphibian

Alexander Kupfer1, Hendrik Müller1,2, Marta M. Antoniazzi3, Carlos Jared3, Hartmut Greven4, Ronald A. Nussbaum5 and Mark Wilkinson1

Although the initial growth and development of most multicellular animals depends on the provision of yolk, there are many varied contrivances by which animals provide additional or alternative investment in their offspring1. Providing offspring with additional nutrition should be favoured by natural selection when the consequent increased fitness of the young offsets any corresponding reduction in fecundity2. Alternative forms of nutrition may allow parents to delay and potentially redirect their investment. Here we report a remarkable form of parental care and mechanism of parent–offspring nutrient transfer in a caecilian amphibian. Boulengerula taitanus is a direct-developing, oviparous caecilian3, the skin of which is transformed in brooding females to provide a rich supply of nutrients for the developing offspring. Young animals are equipped with a specialized dentition, which they use to peel and eat the outer layer of their mother's modified skin. This new form of parental care provides a plausible intermediate stage in the evolution of viviparity in caecilians. At independence, offspring of viviparous and of oviparous dermatotrophic caecilians are relatively large despite being provided with relatively little yolk. The specialized dentition of skin-feeding (dermatophagous) caecilians may constitute a preadaptation to the fetal feeding on the oviduct lining of viviparous caecilians.

  1. Department of Zoology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK
  2. Institute of Biology, Leiden University, Kaiserstraat 63, 2311 GP, Leiden, The Netherlands
  3. Laboratório de Biologia Celular, Instituto Butantan, Av. Vital Brasil 1500, 05503-900, São Paulo, Brazil
  4. Institut für Zoomorphologie und Zellbiologie der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Universitätstrasse, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany
  5. Museum of Zoology and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

Correspondence to: Mark Wilkinson1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.W. (Email: mw@bmnh.org).

Received 28 September 2005 | Accepted 7 November 2005


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