Variation in Female Reproductive Tract Morphology of the Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
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Cetaceans exhibit vaginal folds, unusual protrusions of the vaginal wall into the vaginal lumen. Inconsistent terminology and a lack of anatomical landmarks in the literature have hindered comparative studies of the form and function of vaginal folds. Our objectives are to: (1) develop a standardized measurement protocol for the reproductive tracts of female cetaceans, (2) assess variation in morphometrics within the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), and (3) determine if vaginal muscle is skeletal, and therefore of somatic origin in this species. We selected 15 measurements to characterize female reproductive tracts and evaluated variability using fresh or frozen-thawed specimens from southeastern USA representing a range of sexual maturity states and reproductive states (n = 18 specimens). Presence of skeletal muscle and variation in the density of muscle banding were assessed using 90 histological samples (n = 5 specimens). Analyses of the gross morphological data revealed that the dolphins generally had one large vaginal fold that bisected the vaginal lumen. Vaginal morphology was similar for sexually mature and immature specimens and across reproductive states. The histological data revealed that the vaginal musculature consisted of smooth muscle, consistent with other mammals, leading us to conclude that vaginal contractions are likely under autonomic rather than somatic control. No differences were found in the density of smooth muscle banding among vaginal regions or sexual maturity states. Our systematic protocol lays the foundation for evaluating the function (e.g., sexual selection, natural selection) and evolution of vaginal folds.
author list (cited authors)
Orbach, D. N., Marshall, C. D., Würsig, B., & Mesnick, S. L.