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Western Rattlesnakes: Head Shape, Genetics Shed Light On Species' Evolution

First Posted: Jan 28, 2016 11:51 AM EST

A team of researchers are shedding new light on the evolution of rattle snake species. In the study, the researchers use head shape features and genetic analyses, which enabled them to uncover new findings on subspecies among western rattlesnake species. These findings are essential in order for conservation measures to be put in place and for the establishing new species designations, according to the researchers.

"We are able to see that these different subspecies, which have different habits, live in different areas and have other different characteristics, have heads that have been shaped differently over evolutionary time," Mark Davis, coauthor of the study, said in a news release.

The researchers gathered data from almost 3,000 rattle snakes to conduct their study. 'Crotalus viridis' is the western rattlesnake that roams territories of the US, Canada and Mexico. Western rattlesnakes' heads facilitate feeding and reproductive activities. Researchers noticed that western rattlesnakes' head have evolved over time to better improve behaviors that are necessary for their survival.

The researchers used geometric morphometrics, which enabled them to have a better understanding of how head shapes influence the head size. After analyzing the head shape and genetic aspects of western rattlesnakes, the researchers found that several groups of snakes that were categorized as subspecies have significant differences, which qualifies them to have a species of their own.

"It's important to me to try to work with conservation practitioners to develop strategies for preserving biodiversity," Davis said.

The researchers anticipate that their findings will be taken into consideration by national and international organizations that are responsible for identifying various species.  

The findings of this study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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