The Micrelapidae family, which diverged from the evolutionary tree of snakes some 50 million years ago, has three species – two in Africa, one in Israel
A rare scientific discovery from an extensive international study recently identified a new family of snakes: Micrelapidae.
According to the researchers, Micrelaps – small snakes usually with black and yellow rings – diverged from the rest of the evolutionary tree of snakes some 50 million years ago, and consist of only three species, two in Africa and one in Israel and neighboring countries.
The study was conducted by researchers from Finland, the United States, Belgium, Madagascar, Hong Kong, and Israel, and was published in the Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution journal. Professor Shai Meiri of Tel Aviv University’s School of Zoology in Israel took part in the study.
“Today, we tend to assume that most large groups of animals, such as families, are already known to science. But sometimes, we still encounter surprises, and this is what happened with Micrelapid snakes,” said Prof. Meiri.
“For years, they were considered members of the largest snake family, but multiple DNA tests conducted over the last decade contradicted this classification. Since then, snake researchers around the world have tried to discover which family these snakes do belong to – to no avail.”
The researchers used micro-CT technology – high-resolution magnetic imaging – to examine the snake’s morphology, focusing specifically on the skull.
Over the past 50 million years, the researchers explained, these snakes evolved independently as a distinct family. The very small family only resides in Kenya, Tanzania, Israel, northern Jordan, the West Bank, southern Syria, and southern Lebanon.
The geographic dispersion suggests that these snakes probably originated in Africa, and then, at some point in their history, some of them made their way north through the Great Rift Valley.