Snakes’ Ancestors Lost Limb to Live in Burrows

Monday, November 30, 2015

Burrowing Snakes

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the American Museum of Natural History have decoded an evolutionary process involving snakes, which indicated that their ancestors had lost limbs when they tried moving into the burrows. The new study discards an old theory of snakes’ ancestors losing their limbs to live in the sea.

This was concluded by the scientists after they performed CT scans on the bony inner ear of the fossils of modern reptiles and a 90 million–year–old fossil of Dinilysia patagonica. Dinilysia was a 2 metre–long reptile, closely linked to the modern snakes. The bony canals and cavities, similar to those in the ears of modern burrowing snakes, controlled Dinilysia’s hearing and balance.

Scientists also built a virtual 3D model to compare Dinilysia with modern snakes and lizards and found a distinctive structure within its inner ear that actively burrowed. These structures helped Dinilysia detect prey and predators. This shape, however, is not present in the modern snakes that live in water or ground. This study was published in the journal ‘Science Advances’.

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