All snakes evolved from a few species that survived Cretaceous-period asteroid strike, study suggests

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TORONTO – A new study from the University of Bath in Britain suggests that all modern snakes evolved from a few species that managed to survive the huge asteroid impact that wiped out dinosaurs and most living things at the end of the Cretaceous period. 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago.

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The Cretaceous period marked the last period after the Jurassic period known as the Mesozoic Era and ended with the extinction of the dinosaurs.

This study published in the journal nature communication, says that the mass extinction event of the asteroid strike was a form of “creative destruction” that allowed snakes to diversify their evolutionary processes, and that snake species began to diversify around that time.

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Researchers led by scientists from the University of Bath, with colleagues from Bristol and Cambridge in the UK and Germany, used analysis of genetic differences between fossils and modern snakes to build a reconstruction of the evolution of snakes, which helped pinpoint the time. Helped where modern snakes evolved.

Study results show that of all living snakes, more than 4,000 species, trace back to a handful of species that survived an asteroid impact 66 million years ago.

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Researchers believe that the snakes’ ability to shelter underground and leave food for long periods of time helped them survive the devastating effects of the impact. The subsequent destruction of their rivals at the time of the strike allowed the snake species to spread again to new habitats and continents – fueling evolutionary processes.

That advantage allowed the snakes to produce offspring such as vipers, cobras, garter snakes and pythons, the study says, and notes that modern snake species, including tree snakes, sea snakes, cobras and boas, were only after the extinction of the dinosaurs. emerged.

The fossils from the period after the asteroid strike showed a distinct change in the shape of snake vertebrae, which fed into the appearance of new species groups, including the 10-metre-long giant sea snakes, the study said. according to a release.

“This is remarkable, because not only are they surviving an extinction that wipes out so many other animals, but within a few million years they are using their habitats in new ways,” said lead author Dr. Katherine Klein said in the release.

The study also suggests that snakes began to spread around the world during this time, and although the ancestors of living snakes “probably lived in the Southern Hemisphere,” it appears that snakes may have migrated to Asia after the extinction event of the asteroid strike. have spread.

“Our research shows that extinction acted as a form of ‘creative destruction’ – by erasing out older species, it allowed survivors to exploit gaps in ecosystems, experimenting with new lifestyles and habitats. Granted,” study author Nick Longrich said in the release.

“This appears to be a common feature of evolution – this is the period immediately after major extinction where we see evolution at its most wildly experimental and innovative,” he continued. “The destruction of biodiversity makes room for new things to emerge and colonize new lands. Eventually life becomes more diverse than ever.”

The researchers also found evidence of a second diversification event around the time Earth shifted from a warm “greenhouse Earth” to a colder “icehouse” climate, which promoted the onset of ice ages and saw the formation of polar icecaps.

The pattern researchers found in the evolution of snakes indicates how global disasters coupled with severe and rapid environmental disruptions can drive evolutionary change, the study said.

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