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Blood flow dynamics in the snake spectacle
Kevin van Doorn, Jacob G. Sivak


The eyes of snakes are shielded beneath a layer of transparent integument referred to as the ‘reptilian spectacle’. Well adapted to vision by virtue of its optical transparency, it nevertheless retains one characteristic of the integument that would otherwise prove detrimental to vision: its vascularity. Given the potential consequence of spectacle blood vessels on visual clarity, one might expect adaptations to have evolved that mitigate their negative impact. Earlier research demonstrated an adaptation to their spatial layout in only one species to reduce the vessels' density in the region serving the foveal and binocular visual fields. Here, we present a study of spectacle blood flow dynamics and provide evidence of a mechanism to mitigate the spectacle blood vessels' deleterious effect on vision by regulation of blood flow through them. It was found that when snakes are at rest and undisturbed, spectacle vessels undergo cycles of dilation and constriction, such that the majority of the time the vessels are fully constricted, effectively removing them from the visual field. When snakes are presented with a visual threat, spectacle vessels constrict and remain constricted for longer periods than occur during the resting cycles, thus guaranteeing the best possible visual capabilities in times of need. Finally, during the snakes' renewal phase when they are generating a new stratum corneum, the resting cycle is abolished, spectacle vessels remain dilated and blood flow remains strong and continuous. The significance of these findings in terms of the visual capabilities and physiology of snakes is discussed.



    K.v.D. designed and performed the research; K.v.D. and J.S. wrote the paper.

  • Supplementary material available online at


    No competing interests declared.


    This work was supported by a Doctoral Postgraduate Scholarship from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to K.v.D. and an NSERC grant to J.S.

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