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Open AccessArticle

Exquisitely Preserved Fossil Snakes of Messel: Insight into the Evolution, Biogeography, Habitat Preferences and Sensory Ecology of Early Boas

1
Department of Messel Research and Mammalogy, Senckenberg Research Institute, Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
2
CONICET-UNSa. Instituto de Bio y Geociencias del NOA (IBIGEO), 9 de Julio No. 14, A4405BBB Rosario de Lerma, Salta, Argentina
3
Faculty of Biological Sciences, Institute for Ecology, Diversity and Evolution, Max-von-Laue-Strasse 13, University of Frankfurt, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Diversity 2020, 12(3), 100; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12030100
Received: 10 February 2020 / Revised: 7 March 2020 / Accepted: 10 March 2020 / Published: 13 March 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Phylogeny and Evolution)
Our knowledge of early evolution of snakes is improving, but all that we can infer about the evolution of modern clades of snakes such as boas (Booidea) is still based on isolated bones. Here, we resolve the phylogenetic relationships of Eoconstrictor fischeri comb. nov. and other booids from the early-middle Eocene of Messel (Germany), the best-known fossil snake assemblage yet discovered. Our combined analyses demonstrate an affinity of Eoconstrictor with Neotropical boas, thus entailing a South America-to-Europe dispersal event. Other booid species from Messel are related to different New World clades, reinforcing the cosmopolitan nature of the Messel booid fauna. Our analyses indicate that Eoconstrictor was a terrestrial, medium- to large-bodied snake that bore labial pit organs in the upper jaw, the earliest evidence that the visual system in snakes incorporated the infrared spectrum. Evaluation of the known palaeobiology of Eoconstrictor provides no evidence that pit organs played a role in the predator–prey relations of this stem boid. At the same time, the morphological diversity of Messel booids reflects the occupation of several terrestrial macrohabitats, and even in the earliest booid community the relation between pit organs and body size is similar to that seen in booids today. View Full-Text
Keywords: Boidae; Messel Formation; Eocene; pit organs; infrared; macrohabitat; biogeography Boidae; Messel Formation; Eocene; pit organs; infrared; macrohabitat; biogeography
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  • Externally hosted supplementary file 1
    Doi: 10.5281/zenodo.3700565
    Link: https://zenodo.org/deposit/3700565
    Description: Document S1, phylogenetic matrix (Mesquite), data tables, and R scripts
MDPI and ACS Style

Scanferla, A.; Smith, K.T. Exquisitely Preserved Fossil Snakes of Messel: Insight into the Evolution, Biogeography, Habitat Preferences and Sensory Ecology of Early Boas. Diversity 2020, 12, 100.

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