Indexed on: 18 Nov '00Published on: 18 Nov '00Published in: Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
Previous reports have indicated that members of the proteid family of salamanders lack a vomeronasal system, and this absence has been interpreted as representing the ancestral condition for aquatic amphibians. I examined the anatomy of the nasal cavities, nasal epithelia, and forebrains of members of the proteid family, mudpuppies (Necturus maculosus), as well as members of the amphiumid and sirenid families (Amphiuma tridactylum and Siren intermedia). Using a combination of light and transmission electron microscopy, I found no evidence that mudpuppies possess a vomeronasal system, but found that amphiuma and sirens possess both vomeronasal and olfactory systems. Amphiumids and sirenids are considered to be outgroups relative to proteids; therefore, these data indicate that the vomeronasal system is generally present in salamanders and has been lost in mudpuppies. Given that the vomeronasal system is generally present in aquatic amphibians, and that the last common ancestor of amphibians and amniotes is believed to have been fully aquatic, I conclude that the vomeronasal system arose in aquatic tetrapods and did not originate as an adaptation to terrestrial life. This conclusion has important implications for the hypothesis that the vomeronasal organ is specialized for detection of non-volatile compounds.