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The Wormlike Snake From A Land That No Longer Exists

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This creature often gets mistaken for an earthworm, but it's actually a blind snake - and it comes from a land that time forgot. This creature originally lived on Gondwana, the southern supercontinent that became Antarctica, India, Madagascar, and Australia.

This particular species of blindsnake is native to the Madagascar region, but scientists studying its genome were able to reconstruct its evolution. Originally the creature's ancestors roamed across the Earth's early landmass, managing to survive even as its home shattered into multiple continents.


According to a release:

The genetic research reveals that the original stock of worm-like snakes arose on Gondwana, the ancient southern supercontinent. The initial split occurred about 155 million years ago as Gondwana divided into East Gondwana (the landmasses of Antarctica, India, Madagascar, and Australia) and West Gondwana (the landmasses of South America and Africa). The residents of East Gondwana - the blindsnakes - then diverged into several lineages including a new family named in this study and found only on Madagascar. Later, East Gondwana further divided into a new paleolandmass - called by the researchers "Indigascar" (India plus Madagascar) - and another comprised of Australia and Antarctica. The research suggests that the new family on Madagascar arose as a result of the break-up of the Indigascar landmass about 94 million years ago.


What's really cool about this study is that examination of the genetic differences between groups of blindworms proves that some of these odd little guys hopped from continent to continent by floating on the ocean. Possibly they hitched rides on hunks of vegetation, which bore them across the waves and provided them with food on the journey.

The release continues:

Floating across oceans seems an unlikely mechanism for a burrowing animal to spread to new continents . . . [However] West Gondwana broke up about 100 million years ago, making Africa and South America separate continents, but the genetic split between African and South American blindsnakes occurred only at about 63 million years ago. This finding shows that blindsnakes probably were confined to Africa when West Gondwana broke up and only later traveled to South America - and still later to the West Indies - by floating across the Atlantic from east to west.


Apparently, according to the researchers, this would be pretty easy for blindsnakes. The journey would take about six months, but the blindsnakes don't need much food. They would have eaten bugs that lived with them on the plant "rafts."

via Royal Society's Biology Letters

Images by Frank Glaw.