The world’s oldest horned snake hides in a desert horned lizards burrow
Posted February 17, 2018 07:08:53In an unusual case of evolution gone awry, a desert-horned lizard that’s more than 100 million years old has evolved a way to burrow into its prey and hide in its body.
The ancient species of horned amphibians called dolomedes is the world’s youngest, with a genetic mutation that allows it to hide in a burrow and make a nest in the mud.
The evolution happened more than 200 million years ago, and it’s only now emerging from its burrow that it’s been spotted in Alberta, Canada.
“Dolomede is the oldest species of amphibian known to have a burrowing apparatus,” said Eric Haines, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta who has been studying dolomodelids for more than 30 years.
“This is a species that was found in Alberta in the early 1970s.
It’s only been discovered recently and it has been found at the very lowest point of the Alberta burrow, so it is very unusual,” he said.”
It’s a really important example of evolutionary convergence,” said Hainens, who has studied dolomocephalus for more the last 20 years.
He believes the evolution may be linked to dolomecephalus, a dolomicelid from the same family as dolomerus.
Dolomecelys species have evolved burrowing and burying capabilities, and scientists believe they also developed an adaptation to their environment.
“We know that they burrow a lot in the environment, and we know that there is a requirement for an energy-hungry burrow in the habitat, and that burrow energy must be replenished,” said Kevin Widdowson, a vertebrate paleontist at the College of the Holy Cross.
But dolomes species evolved in environments that don’t have a high density of insects and are much less suitable for feeding on them.
Haines said dolomales could have developed an energy burrow or other burrowing mechanism to conserve energy during periods when there was little or no energy available to feed the snake.
“They could have evolved to be able to store energy in their bodies, which would allow them to survive when they were less abundant,” he told The Globe and Mail.
The discovery of the dolomanids in Alberta was announced at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas.
“In the last couple of years, we’ve found some of these doloms in Texas that have been excavated and we’re seeing evidence of their burrowing abilities,” Hainis said.
Dodgers could learn from these reptilesIf dolomas evolve in environments with a high energy density, they could learn a lot from them, Hainons said.
They may even have a better chance of finding dolomaids in other parts of the world.
“If they’re found at an evolutionary level that is at the same level that they are in Alberta and they are more abundant in other areas, then that could potentially give them some advantages that we would not necessarily expect from dolomyelids,” Hains said.
The scientists found the species had a burrower that would bury itself to escape predators, and a burrows are shaped like a cone that extends into the snake’s body.
The cone is shaped like an upside-down “H” and is made up of a large segment that rises up and then falls down, forming a “pig-tail” on the underside.
The snake has three segments that form a “crown” that sits atop the snake and extends down the back of the snake, Hains noted.
The snake also has a tail called a tail fin, which is used for jumping.
This discovery could help scientists better understand the evolution of this ancient species, he said, and also could lead to the development of techniques to use venom in research.
Hains is currently working with a research team at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to study the snake in its natural environment, to determine if the doloromids have evolved any adaptations that allow them better prey, like other snake species.