Saturday, July 22, 2006

 

Fear of Snakes Drove Pre-Human Evolution

An evolutionary arms race between early snakes and mammals triggered the development of improved vision and large brains in primates, a radical new theory suggests.

The idea, proposed by Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis, suggests that snakes and primates share a long and intimate history, one that forced both groups to evolve new strategies as each attempted to gain the upper hand.

To avoid becoming snake food, early mammals had to develop ways to detect and avoid the reptiles before they could strike. Some animals evolved better snake sniffers, while others developed immunities to serpent venom when it evolved. Early primates developed a better eye for color, detail and movement and the ability to see in three dimensions - traits that are important for detecting threats at close range.

See the Journal of Human Evolution paper "Snakes as agents of evolutionary change in primate brains" (Abstract)

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