How the Demise of Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of Snakes

Snakes were happy to see the end of dinosaurs. New research shows that snake biodiversity started increasing after the CretaceousPaleogene mass extermination. This was the event caused by an asteroid impact some 66 million years ago. The impact of the asteroid led to the extermination of 75 percent of all species and all non-avian dinosaurs.
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The impact allowed primordial snake species the opportunity to thrive, and they did. There are currently around 4,000 species. A team of researchers looked at the diets of snake species in order to understand this evolutionary shift. According to Michael Grundler, a UCLA postdoc researcher and one of the paper authors, "snakes" just experienced an ecological explosion after the KPg extinction."

It turns out that snake fossils can be hard to find. Because their bodies can fracture quickly and are not well-articulated, it is rare to find great snake fossils. They are very rare in fossil records. Grundler stated that they are very rare in fossil records. We rarely see them, and it is often just a small amount of vertebrae. The bones are quite strong and it is not a large mammal or dinosaur with four legs. Snakes have fragile vertebrae and their skulls are very loosely articulated.

The new research team used this information to make comparisons between existing species. Researchers looked at the diets of 882 snake species often found in museum collections and used a mathematical model to reconstruct their ancestors' diets. Although it might seem hard to find out about snake ancestors millions years ago, Grundler stated that as long as there is good data on living species, and their evolutionary relationships, it's possible to trace their descent back.

The researchers found that the insectivore was the most likely common ancestor of all the existing snake species. There were likely to have been snakes that ate rodents or other animals before the mass extinction. Grundler stated that although the outcome of the asteroid impact was certain, it is likely that these beasts died off. He said that the model gives us a best guess.

He said that there is a common ancestor among snakes and other reptiles. However, it is not known what it looked like or how it behaved.

The remaining snakes survived and became many other species after their extinction. Many niches were left unfilled after the impact. Similar to birds, smaller vertebrate critters like snakes were available to prey on. With snakes' diversification, came a greater variety in their diet. Sometimes they eat huge things like antelopes. Grundler stated that modern snakes can eat a wide variety of foods. All of them derived this diversity from one ancestor.

Research also shows that snake biodiversity increased as snake species settled in to new environments. The species that moved to new areas did not adapt differently.

Grundler says that this research will help us understand the ecological responses of lineages to environmental opportunities. This research also contributes to the growing body of knowledge about the ecological history and ecology of snakes. Grundler published a paper in September that contains similar findings. He said that it also highlights the importance of natural history museums and data collection on animals in nature.

This story first appeared on Ars Technica.

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