Snakes have caught the human imagination ever since Christian mythology put the blame on them, but in scientific terms, where did these reptiles come from? Were the first snakes just overly ambitious eels which wanted to see how life was on the Earth’s surface?
According to a new study by scientists at Yale University, the answer is no. The researchers claim that ancient snakes most likely lived in forests and, even in those early times, were starting to lose what remained of their legs.
“Our analyses suggest that the most recent common ancestor of all living snakes would have already lost its forelimbs, but would still have had tiny hind limbs, with complete ankles and toes. It would have first evolved on land, and not in the sea. Both of those insights resolve longstanding debates on the origin of snakes” said co-author Daniel Field, a Yale Ph.D. candidate.
It seems that the common ancestor which is shared by all modern snakes acted similarly to the way the crawling reptiles do today. It was largely nocturnal and lived in the warmth of the southern hemisphere. Ancient snakes would have relied on stealth to hunt what is now considered to be large prey and they weren’t constrictors at all, such as modern anacondas, pythons, or boas. The snakes from the dawn of time used needle-like teeth to catch and swallow prey whole and also alive. A gruesome way to die. They would have started their existence approximately 128 million years ago.
The reasons why humans were fascinated with snakes is, according to the researchers,our fascination and fear of them, which they believe is practically programmed into our brains.
“Primate brains, including those of humans, are hard-wired to attend to serpents, and with good reason. Our natural and adaptive attention to snakes makes the question of their evolutionary origin especially intriguing,” said Jacques Gauthier, senior author of the study, a Yale professor of geology and geophysics, and also a curator of fossil vertebrates at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
It is a strange thing, if you take into account that most adult humans are too big for most constricting snakes to eat, and our size is even larger compared to deadly venomous snakes. A possible answer is that when few species can end the life of humans without warning or reason, it was quite normal to be weary of the reptiles.
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