1. The structure, composition, and shape of teeth have been related to dietary specialization in many vertebrate species, except snakes. Yet, snakes have diverse dietary habits that may impact the shape of their teeth. We hypothesize that prey properties, such as hardness and shape, as well as feeding behavior, such as aquatic or arboreal predation, or holding vigorous prey, impose constraints on the evolution of tooth shape in snakes. 2. We compared the morphology of the dentary teeth of 63 species that cover the phylogenetic and dietary diversity of snakes, using 3D geometric morphometrics and linear measurements. 3. Our results show that prey hardness, foraging substrate and the main mechanical challenge are important drivers of tooth shape, size, and curvature. 4. Overall, long, slender, curved teeth with a thin layer of hard tissue are observed in species that need to maintain a grip on their prey. Short, stout, less curved teeth are associated with species that undergo high or repeated loads. 5. Our study demonstrates the diversity of tooth morphology in snakes and the need to investigate its underlying functional implications to better understand the evolution of teeth in vertebrates.
Phenotypic diversity, or disparity, can be explained by simple genetic drift or, if functional constraints are strong, by selection for ecologically relevant phenotypes. We here studied phenotypic disparity in head shape in aquatic snakes. We investigated whether conflicting selective pressures related to different functions have driven shape diversity and explore whether similar phenotypes may give rise to the same functional output (i.e. many-to-one mapping of form to function). We focused on the head shape of aquatically foraging snakes as they fulfil several fitness-relevant functions and show a large amount of morphological variability. We used 3D surface scanning and 3D geometric-morphometrics to compare the head shape of 62 species in a phylogenetic context. We first tested whether diet specialization and size are drivers of head shape diversification. Next, we tested for many-to-one mapping by comparing the hydrodynamic efficiency of head shapes characteristic of the main axis of variation in the dataset. We 3D printed these shapes and measured the forces at play during a frontal strike. Our results show that diet and size explain only a small amount of shape variation. Shapes did not functionally converge as more specialized aquatic species evolved a more efficient head shape than others. The shape disparity observed could thus reflect a process of niche specialization under a stabilizing selective regime.