“Age Of Snakes” follows the extinction of dinosaurs as the menu of Earth’s creatures grew
There is no greater “out of the old with the new” than a mass extinction event. When the dinosaurs left this Earth, it allowed a vast array of mammals and birds to sprout from their ancestors. New research has shown that this influx of species had a profound effect on snakes, which experienced a rash of diversification in the absence of dinosaurs. Once confined to a diet of mostly insects, they began to feast on fish, birds, and even small mammals.
The new article, published in the journal PLOS Biology, investigated how the mass extinction of K-Pg – which occurred 66 million years ago – changed the lives of snakes. The researchers assembled a snake diet dataset consisting of 34,060 observations from 882 species.
Using mathematical modeling, they were able to reconstruct a timeline of how the snakes’ diet evolved after the K-Pg event, revealing that it was a time of enormous diversification. Starting from the common ancestor of extant snakes, an undulating figure who feeds exclusively on insects, they have traveled through Earth’s history. They saw that over time, emerging snake species began to incorporate new prey into their diet. Fish, birds, and mammals joined insects at the snakes’ supper at a time when they themselves were experiencing growth and diversification.
“The diversification of mammals was so impressive that the Cenozoic is commonly referred to as the ‘Age of Mammals’,” the researchers wrote. “With almost as many species of snakes as there are mammals, the Cenozoic could just as easily be called the ‘age of snakes.’
With new positions opening up in what the authors call “eco-space”, these reptiles made like snakes and creep into each of them to occupy a new ecological niche, bringing with it new opportunities to feed. newcomers – whether winged, warm, or humid. As the eruption of new opportunities stabilized over time, so did their eco-space expansions, too, but as living snakes demonstrate, the lifestyles resulting from this explosion of diversification were rich. and delicious.
“Much of the astonishing ecological diversity of snakes appears to result from evolutionary explosions triggered by ecological opportunities,” study author Michael Grundler of the University of California said in a statement.
“We are seeing a major explosion in snake diet diversification after the dinosaurs became extinct, and we also find that when snakes arrive in new places, they often experience similar bursts of dietary diversification.”
So what’s on the menu, guys?