How clever

Look-alike snakes reveal the power of natural selection

They last had a common ancestor 70 million years ago. So why do aquatic pythons look like aquatic boas, burrowing pythons look like burrowing boas and tree-dwelling pythons look like tree-dwelling boas?

A new Australian National University (ANU) study into pythons and boas has for the first time found the two groups of snakes evolved independently to share similar traits. The research sheds new light on how the environment influences the way species evolve.

Pythons and boas are two distinct families that include the largest snakes in the world. They’ve been evolving separately since the age of the dinosaurs, yet species within each family have adapted in similar ways to their shared habitats. It’s called convergent evolution. Another example is sharks and dolphins – unrelated species that have evolved similar body plans.

The research focused on the head shape of close to 2,000 specimens in museum collections in Australia and America. It reinforces the importance of natural selection and adaptation in shaping biological diversity.

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