Exquisitely preserved fossil snakes of Messel: insight into the evolution, biogeography, habitat preferences and sensory ecology of aarly boas

  • Our knowledge of early evolution of snakes is improving, but all that we can infer about the evolution of modern clades of snakes such as boas (Booidea) is still based on isolated bones. Here, we resolve the phylogenetic relationships of Eoconstrictor fischeri comb. nov. and other booids from the early-middle Eocene of Messel (Germany), the best-known fossil snake assemblage yet discovered. Our combined analyses demonstrate an affinity of Eoconstrictor with Neotropical boas, thus entailing a South America-to-Europe dispersal event. Other booid species from Messel are related to different New World clades, reinforcing the cosmopolitan nature of the Messel booid fauna. Our analyses indicate that Eoconstrictor was a terrestrial, medium- to large-bodied snake that bore labial pit organs in the upper jaw, the earliest evidence that the visual system in snakes incorporated the infrared spectrum. Evaluation of the known palaeobiology of Eoconstrictor provides no evidence that pit organs played a role in the predator–prey relations of this stem boid. At the same time, the morphological diversity of Messel booids reflects the occupation of several terrestrial macrohabitats, and even in the earliest booid community the relation between pit organs and body size is similar to that seen in booids today.

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Author:Agustín ScanferlaORCiD, Krister T. SmithORCiDGND
Parent Title (English):Diversity
Place of publication:Basel
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2020/03/13
Date of first Publication:2020/03/13
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2020/09/16
Tag:Boidae; Eocene; pit organs; Messel Formation; biogeography; infrared; macrohabitat
Issue:3, art 100
Page Number:16
Institutes:Biowissenschaften / Biowissenschaften
Angeschlossene und kooperierende Institutionen / Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft
Biowissenschaften / Institut für Ökologie, Evolution und Diversität
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 56 Fossilien, Paläontologie / 560 Paläontologie; Paläozoologie
5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 59 Tiere (Zoologie) / 590 Tiere (Zoologie)
Sammlung Biologie / Sondersammelgebiets-Volltexte
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 4.0