Mammals on menu: Snake dietary diversity exploded after mass extinction 66 million years ago
Modern snakes evolved from ancestors that lived side by side with the dinosaurs and that likely fed mainly on insects and lizards.
Then a miles-wide asteroid wiped out nearly all the dinosaurs and roughly three-quarters of the planet’s plant and animal species 66 million years ago, setting the stage for the spectacular diversification of mammals and birds that followed in the early Cenozoic Era.
A new University of Michigan study shows that early snakes capitalized on that ecological opportunity and the smorgasbord that it presented, rapidly and repeatedly evolving novel dietary adaptations and prey preferences.
The study, which combines genetic evidence with ecological information extracted from preserved museum specimens, was published online Oct. 14 in the journal PLOS Biology.
“We found a major burst of snake dietary diversification after the …
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