Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Large Mouths Drove Island Snakes to Gigantism

Big-mouthed baby snakes are to blame for the evolution of giant snakes on the islands around Australia, new research suggests. Island life meant limited food choices, which in some areas selected for larger mouthed offspring, which made these tiger snakes about twice as large as their mainland cousins.

"The results were unequivocal: snake body size at birth tightly matches the size of prey available on each island," study researcher Fabien Aubret of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in France. If the snakes were smaller, they would have a harder time trying to eat the large prey on some of these islands.

The study was published in the June 2012 issue of the journal The American Naturalist.

Mainland tiger snakes generally max out at 35 inches (89 centimeters) long and patrol swampy areas in search of frogs. When sea levels rose around 10,000 years ago, some tiger snakes found themselves marooned on frog-free islands. With their favorite food gone, some of the snakes had to survive off of skinks, rodents, and nesting oceanic bird chicks, the researchers said.

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