Blind snakes inhabited Madagascar even before its creation

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Washington, Apr 2 (ANI): A newfound snake family's genes have indicated that blind snakes lived on the island of Madagascar even before it was an island.

The discovery could help decode how these rarely seen, and not completely blind snakes came to colonize much of the planet.

Blind snakes, growing to about a foot (30 centimeters) long, act a lot like worms, burrowing under the surface of every continent except Antarctica.

However, unlike worms, blind snakes have backbones and tiny scales.

"Continental drift had a huge impact on blind snake evolution by separating populations from each other as continents moved apart," National Geographic News quoted study co-leader Nicolas Vidal, of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, as saying.

Now considered part of Africa, Madagascar split from what's now India about 94 million years ago.

And since then, the blind snakes on Madagascar have changed enough to give rise to a whole new family, said Penn State biologist Blair Hedges, the study's other co-leader.

As blind snake fossils are nearly nonexistent, their evolutionary history has been a mystery.

But by comparing five genes from 96 far-flung blind snake species, the researchers could create a map of the snakes' evolutionary family tree.

Using estimated time frames for genetic mutation, the team could estimate when the different species had arisen.

And they said that the wormlike snakes first appeared on the southern supercontinent Gondwana.

As Gondwana split apart, the blind snakes were isolated to what the researchers call Indigascar-a landmass including what are now India and Madagascar.

And genetic data suggests that relatively soon after the split, the newly recognized family arose.

The findings are published in the journal Biology Letters. (ANI)

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