Why are there so many snakes on Earth?

According to The Reptile Database for 2017, scientists are aware of the existence of 3,631 species of snakes. They all differ in size, color, lifestyle and, of course, the presence or absence of poisonous fangs. The largest snakes in the world are the reticulated python and the water boa anaconda, and the smallest snakes are no more than 10 centimeters long. These creatures can be found almost anywhere on our planet except cold Antarctica. Based on this, the question arises – how were snakes able to spread so widely throughout the planet? This question becomes even more interesting when you consider that 66 million years ago, many snakes, along with dinosaurs, died as a result of an asteroid fall. As it turned out, it was this catastrophe that contributed to an increase in their diversity and dispersal throughout the Earth.

Scientists find out what caused the variety of snakes

Consequences of an asteroid fall

At least, this is the opinion of an international group of scientists who published the results of their research in the scientific journal Nature Communications . They drew attention to the fact that after the fall of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs , about 76% of all animal species and 80% of plants died in the world. To a greater extent, their extinction was associated not with the fall of the space object itself, but with the dust and soot raised into the air, due to which sunlight ceased to fall on the earth’s surface. The surviving birds, insects, mammals, and scales could have survived.After the fall of the asteroid 66 million years ago, not all animals became extinct.

Previously, scientists believed that the asteroid did not cause much harm to the population of snakes, but the results of numerous studies suggested the opposite – many of them became extinct. Only a few species of snakes survived, which for a long time were forced to do without food and hid underground. Scientists recently conducted a genetic study of the species of snakes existing today and came to the conclusion that they just came from the few species that were able to survive after the fall of the asteroid.

Who survived the fall of the asteroid?

Most likely, the surviving snakes were able to evolve due to the absence of dinosaurs. It should also be noted that they got rid of strong competitors among their relatives. After the fall of the asteroid and the dispersal of dust and ash, these creatures gained access to a huge amount of food and began to occupy one of the highest steps in the food chain. The ancient ancestors of today’s snakes lived in the southern hemisphere of our planet, and then began to meet in Asia. According to evolutionist Nicholas Longrich, the fall of the asteroid affected the fate of the snakes as a form of “creative destruction.” By destroying old species, the catastrophe allowed new species to evolve.

It is believed that millions of years ago, Titanoboa snakes, the largest in history, lived on Earth.

Nature ordered that some species became especially large and could grow up to 10 meters in length. Depending on the surrounding conditions, each species began to lead a characteristic lifestyle and hunt in its own way. Many species of snakes catch prey with poisonous fangs, boas strangle prey, and pythons consume them completely. Some types of snakes are able to attack enemies at a distance, spitting out a poisonous mixture from their mouths for several meters. There are even flying kites in the world, which I talked about in this material .

How did poisonous animals appear?

Importantly, a group of scientists led by Australian researcher Alessandro Palci recently discovered that snake fangs were not originally venomous. The venom injection holes in modern vipers and cobras are the result of several mutations in the grooves at the base of the teeth. Apparently, in response to environmental conditions, over time, these indentations began to elongate and formed holes that went through the entire length of the canines. In the course of another mutation, a poisonous gland appeared in the snakes and substances that help neutralize the victims began to seep through the hole. I spoke in detail about this discovery of scientists here .

Poisonous fangs and snakes did not appear immediately, but only after mutations

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The most interesting thing is that in the course of evolution, even people could acquire poisonous fangs. It’s hard to believe at first, but when you consider that there are poisonous mammals, shrews (Soricidae) in the world, this statement does not seem so fantastic. Scientists recently discovered that the mechanism that can lead to the formation of poisonous glands was passed on to all living creatures from one common ancestor. You can read more about all this in a special material .


by Abdullah Sam
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