Histology and functional morphology of the female reproductive tract of the tortoise Gopherus polyphemus

Am J Anat. 1988 Nov;183(3):200-11. doi: 10.1002/aja.1001830303.


The oviducts of 25 tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) were examined by using histology and scanning electron microscopy to determine oviductal functional morphology. Oviductal formation of albumen and eggshell was of particular interest. The oviduct is composed of 5 morphologically distinct regions; infundibulum, uterine tube, isthmus, uterus, and vagina. The epithelium consists of ciliated cells and microvillous secretory cells throughout the oviduct, whereas bleb secretory cells are unique to the infundibulum. The epithelium and endometrial glands of the uterine tube histologically resemble those of the avian magnum which produce egg albumen and may be functionally homologous. The isthmus is a short, nonglandular region of the oviduct and appears to contribute little to either albumen or eggshell formation. The uterus retains the eggs until oviposition and may form both the fibrous and calcareous eggshell. The endometrial glands are histologically similar to the endometrial glands of the isthmus of birds, which are known to secrete the fibers of the eggshell. These glands hypertrophy during vitellogenesis but become depleted during gravidity. The uterine epithelium may supply "plumping water" to the egg albumen as well as transport calcium ions for eggshell formation. The vagina is extremely muscular and serves as a sphincter to retain the eggs until oviposition. Sperm are found within the oviductal lumen and endometrial glands from the posterior tube to the anterior uterus throughout the reproductive cycle. This indicates sperm storage within the female tract, although the viability and reproductive significance of these sperm are unknown.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Egg Shell / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Oviducts / physiology
  • Oviducts / ultrastructure*
  • Reproduction
  • Sperm Transport
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure
  • Turtles / anatomy & histology*
  • Uterus / ultrastructure
  • Vagina / ultrastructure