A Stony Brook-led study has shown that today's snake population largely evolved from species that lived underground.
Stony Brook associate professor John J. Wiens, of the Department of Ecology and Evolution, is the lead author on the study, which was published this week in the journal Biology Letters. The study analyzed a large molecular dataset consisting of 44 genes and 161 species of reptiles to track those species' evolutionary history.
The study found that "a bizarre group of burrowing blind snakes," called scolecophidians, was the species' evolutionary parent. The authors also suggested that surface-dwelling snakes still exhibit some characteristics of their subterranean ancestry.
“For example, no matter where they live, snakes have an elongate body and a relatively short tail, and outside of snakes, this body shape is only found in lizards that live underground,” Wiens said in a statement. “Snakes have kept this same basic body shape as they have evolved to invade nearly every habitat on the planet – from rainforest canopies to deserts and even the oceans.”
The study's authors also included Carl R. Hutter, Daniel G. Mulcahy, Brice P. Noonan, Ted M. Townsend, Jack W. Sites Jr., and Tod W. Reede, and the research was completed at Stony Brook University, Brigham Young University, and San Diego State University.