Sexual dimorphism and allometry in the head and body size of two viperid snakes (genus Vipera)


  • Bartosz Borczyk Department of Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of Vertebrates, University of Wrocław, Poland
  • Przemysław Puszkiewicz Department of Evolutionary Biology and Conservation of Vertebrates, University of Wrocław, Poland
  • Stanisław Bury Department of Comparative Anatomy, Institute of Zoology and Biomedical Research, Jagiellonian University Gronostajowa 9, 30-387 Cracow, Poland



allometry, head size, head shape, morphology, sexual dimorphism


Sexual dimorphism in the size and shape of the body and head is the result of manifold selective pressures acting on organisms. In snakes, sexual size dimorphism is common and has been well-studied. However, intersexual differences in relative head size and shape have attracted far less attention. Similarly, the allometric properties of head shape and size in snakes are poorly known. Here, we analyse sexual dimorphism in two viperid species: European adder Vipera berus (Linnaeus, 1758) and Steppe viper Vipera renardi (Christoph, 1861). We measured body length, tail length and several head characteristics: head length, head width, head height, pileus length, interorbital distance and internarial distance. Our findings were that males and females of both species did not differ in body length (SVL), but that males tended to have significantly longer tails; there were also significant differences in head characteristics – males tended to have higher heads, and larger internarial and interorbital distances. The head dimensions displayed negative allometry when compared against SVL but when scaled against head length, dimensions like head height and head width exhibited positive allometry. We argue that these differences may be related to sexual selection and that the wider heads may also serve as antipredatory signal.


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How to Cite

Borczyk, B., Puszkiewicz, P., & Bury, S. (2024). Sexual dimorphism and allometry in the head and body size of two viperid snakes (genus Vipera). Belgian Journal of Zoology, 154, 31–44.