Inflammatory arthritis is documented for the first time in snakes. Ossification of the intervertebral capsule and zygapophyseal joints resulting in segmental vertebral fusion was observed in the aquatic Cretaceous snake Lunaophis aquaticus. Such pathologic alterations are pathognomonic for the spondyloarthropathy form of inflammatory arthritis. A survey of 2144 snakes in recent collections, performed to identify Holocene prevalence, revealed only two occurrences in extant snakes. The findings in Bitis gabonica and Elaphe taeniura were indistinguishable from those noted in Lunaophis aquaticus and identical to those previously recognized in modern varanids. The pathology likely represents a form of reactive arthritis related to enteropathic infection. While the disease probably did not affect general locomotion, its vertebral column position may have compromised mating.
Keywords Spondyloarthropathy . Mesozoic . Marine snakes . SouthAmerica . Venezuela