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Blind snakes on Madagascar arose when it broke up with India 100 mln yrs ago

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    Washington, March 31 (ANI): In a new research, a team of scientists discovered that blindsnakes are one of the few groups of organisms that inhabited Madagascar when it broke from India about 100 million years ago and are still living today.

    The co-leaders of the team were Blair Hedges, professor of biology at Penn State University, US, and Nicolas Vidal, of the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris.

    Blindsnakes comprise about 260 different species and form the largest group of the world's worm-like snakes - scolecophidians.

    These burrowing animals typically are found in southern continents and tropical islands, but occur on all continents except Antarctica.

    They have reduced vision - which is why they are called "blind" - and they feed on social insects including termites and ants.

    Because there are almost no known fossil blindsnakes, their evolution has been difficult to piece together.

    Also, because of their underground lifestyle, scientists have long wondered how they managed to spread from continent to continent.

    In this study, the team investigated the evolution of blindsnakes by examining the genetics of living species.

    They extracted five nuclear genes, which code for proteins, from 96 different species of worm-like snakes to reconstruct the branching pattern of their evolution and allow the team to estimate the times of divergence of different lineages within blindsnakes using molecular clocks.

    "Our findings show that continental drift had a huge impact on blindsnake evolution by separating populations from each other as continents moved apart," explained Vidal.

    Mutations in the genes record the history of these blurry-eyed serpents.

    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.

    Madagascar's long isolation has led to the evolution of many unique endemic animals including this family of blindsnakes, various lemurs, and other rare mammals. (ANI)

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