Royal Society Publishing

Molecular evidence for a terrestrial origin of snakes

Nicolas Vidal, S. Blair Hedges


Biologists have debated the origin of snakes since the nineteenth century. One hypothesis suggests that snakes are most closely related to terrestrial lizards, and reduced their limbs on land. An alternative hypothesis proposes that snakes are most closely related to Cretaceous marine lizards, such as mosasaurs, and reduced their limbs in water. A presumed close relationship between living monitor lizards, believed to be close relatives of the extinct mosasaurs, and snakes has bolstered the marine origin hypothesis. Here, we show that DNA sequence evidence does not support a close relationship between snakes and monitor lizards, and thus supports a terrestrial origin of snakes.