Pythons are good mothers, new research

This video says about itself:

Southern African Pythons mating – South Africa

3 January 2017

Southern African Pythons. Along a cliff-line just outside of Osindisweni, Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. Filmed by Jason Arnold of Universal Reptiles.

From the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa:

Cold-bloodedpythons make for caring moms

Female Southern African pythons are the first ever egg-laying snake shown to care for their babies — at great cost to themselves

March 14, 2018

Summary: The female Southern African python is the first ever egg-laying snake species shown to care for their babies. This comes at great cost to themselves, as they never eat during the breeding period — with many snakes starving — and turn their color to black in order to attract more sun while basking to raise their body temperature.

Reptiles are usually thought of as cold-blooded (an outdated term), simple animals that certainly don’t care for their young.

Behaviours such as family living and parental care are usually not associated with snakes, and are only associated with mammals and birds. However, this may be more as a result of the lack of research on reptiles, than as a result of their actual behaviour.

A recent study by Professor Graham Alexander from the Alexander Herp Lab at the Wits School of Animal Plant and Environmental Sciences has found that female southern African pythons not only incubate their eggs, but they also stay at the nest, caring for their babies for about two weeks after the eggs have hatched. During this time, the babies spend the nights protected and warmed in their mother’s coils, secure in the nest chamber.

“This is the first-ever report of maternal care of babies in an egg-laying snake”, says Alexander, whose findings are based on seven years of intensive fieldwork at the Dinokeng Game Reserve, just north of Pretoria. During this time, he tracked 37 pythons through the use of radio transmitters. These results, and other surprising discoveries were recently published in the Journal of Zoology (London). During the study, eight of the radio-tracked pythons laid eggs in aardvark burrows, and Alexander recorded their breeding behaviour using infrared video cameras carefully lowered into the nest chambers.

“I was amazed by the complex reproductive biology of this iconic snake,” said Alexander.

The female python’s protective behaviour towards her offspring comes at great cost to themselves. The females do not eat at all during the breeding cycle — a period of more than six months — and lose about 40% of their body mass over this time. The females also turn black when breeding — a process which Alexander has termed ‘facultative melanism’ — an adaptation that probably increases rates of heating while basking in the sunlight.

“Efficient basking is probably crucial for incubation. Unlike some other python species, southern African pythons are unable to warm their eggs by elevating their metabolism. Instead, our pythons bask near to the burrow entrance until their body temperature is almost 40 °C (within a few degrees of lethal temperatures), and they then coil around the eggs to warm them with their sun-derived body heat.”

The body temperatures of receptive, pregnant and brooding females in the study were more than 5 °C warmer than non-reproductive females.

Even the body temperatures of baby-attending mothers were significantly higher than non-breeding females.

“All of this takes its toll on mother pythons: they take a long time to recover after breeding and so can only produce a clutch every second or third year, depending on how many meals they are able to catch in the months after leaving the nest. Some of them never recover.”

Alexander’s team have recorded instances of females breeding of starvation after breeding.

“Perhaps they just became too weakened to catch food”, says Alexander.

Fortunately all the animals tracked during the study survived, but none of them bred in the following year.

Another surprising finding in the study was the fact that the male pythons followed receptive females around for months.

“In one case, one male was recorded following a female for more than 2 km over a three-month period,” says Alexander.

Alexander’s findings suggest that we still have lots to learn about the reproductive biology of snakes.

“Research is showing that snake reproductive biology is far more complex and sophisticated than we previously thought, and there is a range of behaviours that have been recorded in several species that can be classed as maternal care. For example, biologists are discovering that females of many types of rattlesnakes show maternal care of babies. In some species, mothers appear to even cooperate by taking shifts to look after young. But all these species are live bearing — our python is the first egg laying species that has been shown to care for its babies.”


Grass snakes survived Ice Age

This video from Britain says about itself:



These reptiles had been huddling together for warmth and are waking up.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

Cool Snake – Warmth-loving Grass Snake survived the Ice Age in Central Europe

February 9, 2018

Using genetic analyses, Senckenberg scientists have discovered that not all Grass Snakes retreated to warm southern refugia during the last Central European Ice Age. Together with a colleague from Spain, they offer first evidence for the survival of a warmth-loving, egg-laying reptile during this cold period. The study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Among the warmth-loving reptiles, the Grass Snake is generally considered a “cool” representative: Its present distribution even extends to the Siberian permafrost soils and the area around the Finnish-Russian Lake Ladoga. “However, it came as a complete surprise to all of us that this thermophilic snake actually ‘overwintered’ in Central Europe during the Pleistocene Ice Age”, explains Professor Dr. Uwe Fritz, director of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

Until now it had been assumed that thermophilic reptiles survived the Ice Ages only on the southern peninsulas of Europe and spread northward once the temperatures rose again during the Holocene and the interglacial periods. Using genetic methods, Fritz, his doctoral student Carolin Kindler, and their Spanish colleague, Eva Graciá now discovered that not all of the snakes, which are widespread across Europe today, retreated to warmer, Mediterranean regions.

The team examined a total of 1,372 genetic samples of these harmless reptiles. “We closely studied different genetic lineages of the Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) and the Eastern Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)”, explains Kindler and continues, “One of the lineages of Natrix natrix survived the Ice Age in two separate refugia: one was located in the Southern Balkans, the other — unexpectedly — in Central Europe.”

As evidence, the scientists from Dresden highlight the much higher genetic diversity — compared to their more southerly relatives — of the Grass Snakes in Northern Germany and Scandinavia.

“This means that we need to rethink the model of ‘southern warm refugia’ — areas of retreat in the Mediterranean region — during the Ice Ages. It is quite possible that other heat-loving animals also withstood the cold temperatures directly ‘at home'”, adds Fritz in summary.

Dinosaur age snakes, video

This video says about itself:

5 February 2018

90 million years ago, an ancient snake known as Najash had…legs. It is by no means the only snake to have limbs either. But what’s even stranger: we’re not at all sure where it came from.

How snakes evolved, new research

This 14 October 2017 video is called The evolution of lizards and snakes.

From the University of Helsinki in Finland:

The origin of snakes: New evolutionary scenario

January 25, 2018

The early evolution of snakes happened from surface-terrestrial to burrowing in the lizard-snake transition suggests a research group at the University of Helsinki.

The group’s new findings redirect the debate on evolution towards a new underexplored evolutionary scenario. Thus, the study adds another dimension to the investigation of snake origins.

Research studies have previously established that snakes evolved from lizards. However, the transition remains amongst the most controversial topics in evolution, partly because of the lack of well-preserved fossils. Three major competing hypotheses for the habitat of early snakes — burrowing i.e. worm-like, aquatic, or terrestrial — have been debated for more than a century by biologists and palaeontologists.

To help clarifying this debate, researchers at the University of Helsinki compared skull shape and size, by including more than 300 species of lizards and snakes at both embryonic and adult stages.

The research group hypothesized that the early snake habitats could be predicted from the skull structure.

“The diversity in cranial structure is remarkable and appears to be tightly linked to ecological habitat modes and diet preferences in lizards and snakes“, describes Associate Professor Nicolas Di-Poï from the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki.

Furthermore Filipe Oliveira da Silva, the first author of the study, suggests that snake evolution and diversification was not a straightforward process but rather an interplay between natural selection and developmental processes. This led first to a new underground lifestyle and then subsequent colonization of many habitats such as water, forests, deserts, and prairies.

One major challenge the group faced was to collect reptile specimens covering all major groups of lizards and snakes. To overcome this, the researchers used an integrative approach through an international collaboration with national history museums, digital morphology libraries, as well as palaeontologists, biologists, and herpetologists.

The next challenge for the research team at the University of Helsinki is to reinforce the new findings by deciphering the fine developmental mechanisms explaining the diversity of bone structure in reptiles.

886 American snake species, new research

This 2013 video says about itself:

Our encounter with the South American Aquatic Coral Snake, also known as “Micrurus Ssrinamensis” in the Madidi Jungle National Park, Amazon Basin, Bolivia.

Don’t always go with the red to yellow, kill a fellow / red to black friend of Jack rhyme. That is true only for snakes found in North America, in South America Coral Snakes can have different patterns.

The Coral native to this region can be identified by the pattern of a black triad surrounding two yellow bands with red separating each triad. Also the bands should go all around the body.

The Aquatic Coral Snake (Micrurus surinamensis) is found throughout the Amazon including the Guianas, Brazil, Bolivia, Suriname. It is also called the coral “venenosa” in Bolivia, and the “boichumbeguacu” in Brazil. This species is one of the most famous South American coral snakes, and one of the biggest too (80 to 100 cm).

The Surinamensis is a very good swimmer, and spends most of its life in slow-moving bodies of water that have dense vegetation.

Coral Snakes are usually red with black bands bordered by white (or yellow) at intervals, yet not all Coral Snakes are tricolor. The eyes of the venomous tricolor Corals are very small, in contrast with the larger eyes of the nonpoisonous tricolor false corals. Coral snakes are generally not very aggressive snakes, but it would, however, be very dangerous to step on one inadvertently, especially with bare feet.

The venom of all coral snakes is strongly neurotoxic, it affects the nervous system and can cause respiratory paralysis and suffocation. These venoms are among the most potent found in snakes, yet the venom yield per animal is less than that of most vipers or pit vipers. In Mexico Coral Snakes are known as the “20-minute snakes,” for the victim is supposed to be dead 20 minutes after being bitten by one. Corals being burrowing snakes though, few accidents are actually caused by them.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

150 years of snake collections: Data bank proves rich snake diversity in the neotropics

November 24, 2017

An international team made up of scientists from Brazil, Australia, USA, Ecuador, Germany and Sweden has published the results of an extensive database constructed for snakes of the American tropics. This database is made up of museum collections from the past 150 years and demonstrates that some Neotropical regions, such as the Cerrado in central Brazil, contain a disproportionately high diversity. Furthermore, some other diverse regions are disproportionally under sampled, such as the Amazon. For the first time all factors, such as distribution patterns, collection records and frequency of occurrence are recorded from a total of 147,515 contributions to 886 snake species. Thus, the database covers 74 per cent of all snake species from 27 countries. The database, which has been so far unique in this form, will serve as a solid basis for conservation concepts, to biodiversity and evolution models in the future, as well as to design research agendas. The study was recently published in the journal “Global Ecology and Biogeography”.

About 10,500 species of reptiles (animals such as lizards and snakes) are found around the world and about 150 to 200 new species are also discovered every year. Snakes make up about 34 percent of this group of animals. “We assume that there are still many snake species that we still do not know. However, the identification of areas poorly-sampled, where probably new species can be found, must come from data and mapping of the known species” explains leading author Dr. Thaís Guedes from the University of Gothenburg and adds: “We realize that the very rich Amazonian area is, for example, one of the least explored areas.

Most of the area is of high inaccessibility, the low investments in local research sum to relative shortage of experts to explore this huge area explain this result. Besides that, the centers of research, as scientific collections, are limited to the geographic area of major cities and universities.”

The international group of scientists have collected data about snake collections of the Neotropics — South and Central America, the West Indies and the southern part of Mexico and Florida — to record the diversity of snake species, their distribution, as well as their threats. The result is a unique database with 147,515 entries for 886 snake species from 12 families. Senior author of the study Alexandre Antonelli from the University of Gothenburg is pleased: “We have published one of the largest and most detailed surveys on the distribution of snakes — one of the most species-rich reptile groups in the world! What an achievement!”

The huge dataset is the result of a merger of a public database, which was examined by experts in the course of this study and the collection data of various international taxonomists.

Another of the study’s authors, Dr. Martin Jansen from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, says: “The review by taxonomic experts has greatly enhanced the data. One could say that the data bank now has a kind of quality mark, something like ‘taxonomically verified’. This is very important, as biodiversity models often lack this in-deepth taxonomic expertise.”

The results from this most comprehensive and novel database also highlight the necessity to better sample, explore, and protect areas of high diversity, as well as rare species. “Our database provides the ideal basis, and it can now be used by other scientists (without taxonomic expertise) as a solid basis for subsequent models, for example, on evolutionary patterns or climate change effects”, explains Guedes.

Biologists are studying the mechanics of snake movement to understand exactly how they can propel themselves forward like a train through a tunnel: here.

Green tree python and her red babies

This 28 September 2017 video is called Wonderful: Green Tree Python Giving Birth To Red Baby | Reproduction In Reptiles.

Green tree pythons live in south-east Asia and Australia.