Snakes' skulls show how they adapt to their prey, according to a study by scientists at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Researchers examined the skull shape of thick-headed snakes to see how they evolved and adapted in Central and South America to meet the demands of their habitats and food sources.
The study, conducted in collaboration with experts from the University of Michigan, was published in the journal BMC Ecology and Evolution.
"We have evidence that this group of snakes is one of the most impressive and highly adaptable known to science right now," said Gregory Pandelis of the Center for the Study of Amphibian and Reptile Diversity at the University of Texas, Arlington.
"We found that both habitat and food preference are strongly associated with skull shape in these snakes. This indicates that they are likely factors determining the cranial evolution of these species."
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There are more than 800 species of thick-headed snakes. This subfamily of reptiles is usually harmless to humans and survives on a wide range of foods, from larger prey such as birds, lizards and frogs to smaller victims such as worms and snails. Some species even prefer a specific catch - for example, snails, and others consume whatever comes their way.
The researchers focused on skull evolution because its shape has important functional implications for snakes, including capturing and ingesting food, habitat use, choosing a mate, and protecting against predators. Snakes have no limbs, and the skull plays a crucial role in moving them, acquiring and eating prey, which is much larger than their body sizes suggest.
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