A Contribution to the Origin and Early Evolution of Snakes

The Linnean Society of London, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BF, United Kingdom
Organiser: events@linnean.org
0207 434 4479 ext 211

DAY MEETING Monday 24 June 2019 09:50—19:00

Anilius Scytale Snake
© Gabriela Bittencourt Silva

Snakes are a major clade of vertebrates, comprising > 3,700 extant species found on all major continents except Antarctica. They exhibit a wide range of body-form and ecological diversity including fully fossorial, arboreal and marine forms, and species feeding on social insects to large mammals using macrostomy, constriction and envenomation. Although unarguably squamates, snakes are phenotypically strikingly different from their extant lizard relatives, and thus their origins and early diversification have long enthused and challenged evolutionary biologists. The origin and early evolution of snakes is a broadly interdisciplinary topic for which experts in palaeontology, ecology, physiology, phylogenetics and molecular developmental biology have made important contributions. Within the last 20 years there has been a surge of interest, partly as a result of new fossil material and new techniques in molecular and systematic biology, and this has attracted new researchers to the field. Despite this, several major controversies remain, such that the topic seems wholly appropriate for a dedicated meeting in order to summarise and discuss knowledge, approaches, data and debates.

The title of the meeting is in reference to G.L. Underwood’s classic and highly influential 1967 book A contribution to the classification of snakes.

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9.30–9.50 Registration

9.50–10.00 Welcome and announcements

Session 1

10.00–10.20 Susan Evans and Roger Benson: The early history and diversification of squamates

10.20–10.40 Jason Head: Snakes and stratigraphy

10.40–11.00 Krister Smith: A complete skeleton of the earliest known erycine boid and its implications for booid biogeography

11.00-11.30 Tea/Coffee in Reading room (and viewing of posters)

Session 2

11.35–11.55 Hussam Zaher: Mesozoic marine pachyophiids and their bearing on the origin of snakes

11.55–12.15 Martin Ivanov: Late Palaeogene/early Neogene Eurasian snake communities

12.15–12.35 Michael Polcyn: What, if anything, is a pythonomorph?

12.35–12.55 Bruno Augusta and Louis Jacobs: New data on basal mosasaurians highlights their varanoid, not snake, affinities

12.55–14.15 Lunch in Reading room (and viewing of posters)

Session 3

14.15–14.35 Sara Ruane & Jeff Streicher: Conflicting histories—assessing phylogenetic signal across the genomes of snakes

14.35–14.55 Kartik Sunagar: Differential diversification and degeneration of the venom system in toxicoferan reptiles

14.55–15.15 Giovanna Montingelli: Diversity and evolution of hemipenes in the major lineages of extant snakes

15.15–15.35 Leonardo Oliveira: An overview of the morphology of oral glands in snakes

15.35–16.05 Tea/Coffee in Reading room (and viewing of posters)

Session 4

16.10–16.30 Selma de Almeida-Santos: Reproductive strategies and the evolution of sperm storage

16.30–16.50 Hongyu Yi: Revealing ecological traits of ancestral snakes using inner ear morphometrics

16.50–17.10 David Cundall and Frances Irish: Perspectives on macrostomy and snake phylogeny

17.10–17.30 David Gower: Eyes, vision, and snake origins

17.30–17.40 Closing Remarks

17.45–19.00 Wine reception in Reading room


Dr David GOWER is Head of Vertebrates in the Department of Life Sciences at The Natural History Museum, London. He is a systematic and evolutionary biologist interested in limbless (and mostly fossorial) amphibians and reptiles.

Dr Hussam ZAHER is Curator of Herpetology and Paleontology at the Museum of Zoology of the University of São Paulo, Brazil. He is an evolutionary biologist interested in the evolution of snakes and their squamate affinities.