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A few survivors of a dino-killing asteroid developed into modern snakes.

According to a new study, all extant snakes descended from a small number of species that survived the massive asteroid impact that wiped out dinosaurs and most other forms of life at the end of the Cretaceous period. According to the scientists, this horrific extinction event was a type of 'creative devastation,' allowing snakes to expand into previously unoccupied niches.

The study, which was published in Nature Communications, found that snakes, which now number about 4000 species, began to diversify at the same time as the dinosaurs and most other animals on the earth were wiped out by an extraterrestrial impact.

The study employed fossils and genetic differences between extant snakes to reconstruct snake evolution, which was headed by experts from the University of Bath and included collaborators from Bristol, Cambridge, and Germany. The findings aided in determining when modern snakes first appeared.

Their findings demonstrate that all live snakes can be traced back to just a few species that survived the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

The capacity of snakes to hide underground and go for long periods without food, according to the authors, enabled them withstand the impact's damaging effects. As a result of the demise of its competitors, particularly Cretaceous snakes and dinosaurs, snakes were able to expand into new niches, habitats, and continents.

Snakes continued to diversify and exploit new environments and prey, producing lineages such as vipers, cobras, garter snakes, pythons, and boas. Only after the dinosaur extinction did modern snake diversity arise, including tree snakes, sea snakes, deadly vipers and cobras, and gigantic constrictors like boas and pythons.

Following the extinction of Cretaceous lineages and the rise of new groups, including huge sea snakes up to 10 meters long, fossils demonstrate a change in the form of snake vertebrae.

"It's remarkable," said lead author and recent Bath graduate Dr Catherine Klein, who now works at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany, "because not only are they surviving an extinction that wipes out so many other animals, but they're innovating, using their habitats in new ways within a few million years."

The study also reveals that about this period, snakes began to spread over the globe. Despite the fact that the ancestor of all surviving snakes lived in the Southern Hemisphere, snakes appear to have spread to Asia following the extinction.

"Our research suggests that extinction acted as a form of'creative destruction'—by wiping out old species, it allowed survivors to exploit the gaps in the ecosystem, experimenting with new lifestyles and habitats," said Dr Nick Longrich of the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath, who is also the corresponding author.

"This appears to be a general trait of evolution: we find evolution at its most radically adventurous and innovative during the eras immediately following great extinctions." The loss of biodiversity allows new organisms to originate and colonize new landmasses. Life eventually becomes even more diversified than it was before."

The study also discovered evidence for a second significant diversification event around the time the globe changed from a warm 'Greenhouse Earth' to a cold 'Icehouse Earth,' which coincided with the creation of polar icecaps and the beginning of the Ice Ages.

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