Snakes experienced a sudden burst of evolution after the dinosaurs were wiped out 66million years ago – expanding their diets to include birds, fish and small mammals, study finds 

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  • Snakes had a sudden evolution after the dinosaurs were wiped out
  • They expanded their diet to include birds, fish, and small mammals.
  • This rapid diversification of snakes gave rise to the nearly 4,000 species we see today.
  • Scientists study the diet of live snakes and model what ancestors ate

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It is well known that the death of dinosaurs 66 million years ago led to a remarkable diversification of mammals and birds on Earth.

But a new study finds that snakes also experienced an equally spectacular burst of evolution, expanding their diets from insects and lizards to include newly available fish, birds and small mammals.

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According to researchers from the University of California and the University of Michigan, this rapid change has led to the roughly 4,000 species we see today.

To better understand how this evolution occurred, experts studied the diets of 882 living snake species and used mathematical models to reconstruct how their ancestors ate after a giant asteroid struck Earth. Habits changed and diversified.

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They found that the most recent common ancestor of living snakes was insectivores – consuming only insects and worms – but after the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, the snakes’ diet expanded rapidly to include vertebrate groups that They were also flourishing in the wake of the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Snakes experienced a major explosion of evolution after the dinosaurs were wiped out, a new study finds, expanding their diet to include the newly available fish, birds and small mammals.

According to experts from the University of California and the University of Michigan, this rapid diversification has led to the roughly 4,000 species we see today.  There is a green vine snake in the picture

According to experts from the University of California and the University of Michigan, this rapid diversification has led to the roughly 4,000 species we see today. There is a green vine snake in the picture

Are humans born with a fear of snakes and spiders?

Researchers from the MPI CBS in Leipzig, Germany and Uppsala University in Sweden have created a Study In which it was found that even in infants, there is a stress reaction on seeing a spider or snake.

They found that this happens at six months of age, when babies are still very stable and don’t have much of a chance to learn that these animals can be dangerous.

“When we showed children pictures of a snake or a spider instead of a flower or a fish of the same size and color, they responded with significantly larger pupils,” said Stephanie Hohl of the University of Vienna.

The researchers concluded that fear of snakes and spiders is of evolutionary origin, and similarly to primates or snakes, mechanisms in our brains allow us to identify objects and react to them very quickly.

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“A lot of the astonishing ecological diversity in snakes results from evolutionary explosions triggered by ecological opportunity,” said lead author Michael Grundler from the University of California.

‘After the extinction of the dinosaurs we found a major explosion of dietary diversification of snakes – species were rapidly evolving and rapidly gaining the ability to eat new types of prey.’

Similar outbreaks of dietary diversification were observed even when snakes arrived in new places, including when they colonized the ‘New World’, the researchers said.

“This suggests that snakes are taking advantage of opportunities in ecosystems,” said co-author Daniel Rabosky from the University of Michigan.

‘Sometimes those opportunities arise from extinction and sometimes they are due to the spread of an ancient snake to a new land mass.’

Diet diversification in snakes slowed after the initial explosion, but some lineages experienced further bursts of adaptive evolution, the study concluded.

For example, when Old World ancestors colonized North and South America, colubroid snakes diversified.

These findings suggest that mass extinctions and new biogeographic opportunities may drive evolutionary change, the authors said.

Because snake fossils are rare, direct observation of the ancient ancestors of modern snakes – and the evolutionary relationship between them – has been mostly hidden from view.

Similar outbreaks of dietary diversification were also observed when snakes arrived in new places, including when they colonized the 'New World', the researchers said.

Similar outbreaks of dietary diversification were observed even when snakes arrived in new places, including when they colonized the ‘New World’, the researchers said.

Diet diversification slowed in snakes after the initial explosion, but some lineages experienced further bursts of adaptive evolution, the study concluded.

Diet diversification slowed in snakes after the initial explosion, but some lineages experienced further bursts of adaptive evolution, the study concluded.

However, those relationships are preserved in the DNA of living snakes. Biologists can extract that genetic information and use it to build family trees, which biologists call phylogeny.

Grundler and Rabosky merged their dietary datasets with previously published snake phylogenetic data into a new mathematical model that allowed them to estimate how long-extinct snake species were.

“You might think that it would be impossible to know about species that lived long ago and for which we have no fossil information,” Rabosky said.

‘But provided that we have information about evolutionary relationships and data about species that are now living, we can use these sophisticated models to predict what their long-time ancestors were.’

The new research is published in the journal PLOS Biology.

Killing the dinosaurs: How a city-sized asteroid wiped out 75 percent of all animal and plant species

The non-avian dinosaurs were wiped out about 66 million years ago and wiped out more than half of the world’s species.

This mass extinction paved the way for the rise of mammals and the appearance of humans.

The Chicxulub asteroid is often cited as a possible cause of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event.

The asteroid now slammed into a shallow sea in the Gulf of Mexico.

The collision left a huge dust and soot cloud that triggered global climate change, wiping out 75 percent of all animal and plant species.

Researchers claim that the soot needed for such a global catastrophe may only have come from direct impacts on reefs in shallow waters around Mexico, which are particularly rich in…

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