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Heartbeat, embryo communication and hatching synchrony in snake eggs

Abstract : Communication is central to life at all levels of complexity, from cells to organs, through to organisms and communities. Turtle eggs were recently shown to communicate with each other in order to synchronise their development and generate beneficial hatching synchrony. Yet the mechanism underlying embryo to embryo communication remains unknown. Here we show that within a clutch, developing snake embryos use heart beats emanating from neighbouring eggs as a clue for their metabolic level, in order to synchronise development and ultimately hatching. Eggs of the water snake Natrix maura increased heart rates and hatched earlier than control eggs in response to being incubated in physical contact with more advanced eggs. The former produced shorter and slower swimming young than their control siblings. Our results suggest potential fitness consequences of embryo to embryo communication and describe a novel driver for the evolution of egg-clustering behaviour in animals.
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Fabien Aubret, Gaëlle Blanvillain, Florent Bignon, Philippe Kok. Heartbeat, embryo communication and hatching synchrony in snake eggs. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2016, 6 (1), ⟨10.1038/srep23519⟩. ⟨hal-02962760⟩

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