In “‘Arms Race’ Exists Between Snakes and Humans” (Wired ScienceNow, December 13, 2011), Sarah C. P. Williams tells us,
The new data, based on interviews with Agta adults, reveal that snakes were more than just a rare nuisance to the people. They were prey, predator, and competitor all at once. The complex relationship helps reveal the evolutionary pressures that humans and snakes once put on each other.
“Until these data, most people thought that there was a one-way relationship: snakes occasionally harming people,” says herpetologist Harry Greene of Cornell University, who helped put together the new analysis. “But this is the strongest evidence yet that it’s a much more complicated relationship.”
In all places? At all times?
Isbell calls the relationship between snakes and primates throughout history “an evolutionary arms race.” She says there is evidence that pressure to detect well-camouflaged snakes likely helped improve early humans’ eyesight. Likewise, the increasing intellect of early humans may have pressured snakes to develop new methods of camouflage and defense. Greene plans to investigate how this could be reflected in the biology of snakes today. The new numbers on frequency of primate interactions with snakes, Isbell says, strengthens those ideas. “This brings quantitative data to the story for the first time.”
Who knew snakes are smarter today? No popular local snake conservation/protection program has revealed this amazing fact.
4 Replies to “Did you know that snakes are getting smarter, and that they helped humans evolve?”
“She says there is evidence that pressure to detect well-camouflaged snakes likely helped improve early humans’ eyesight. Likewise, the increasing intellect of early humans may have pressured snakes to develop new methods of camouflage and defense.”
Riiiiiight. There have been a lot of stories the past several days with about this same level of evolutionary “explanation” in them. I don’t have the energy to look it up right now, but last month there was a discussion in one of the threads on UD where a true believer took offense at the suggestion that evolutionary scientists would try to “explain” stuff in this manner. Surely it doesn’t happen, came the indignant retort.
Happens all the time. You could get your 6-year old to make up stories with just as much substance.
“We know that DNA left in a soup of building blocks won’t itself produce an organism. It needs the cellular systems to function. So the question becomes whether those cellular systems themselves are attributable to DNA.”
Eggs containing those cellular systems are built by the mother under the control of her DNA, so they are.
“Does the DNA contain all the information for building the cellular structures, or are they built with non-DNA instructions (either due to genetic material inside the cell that is outside of DNA, or based in part on the structure of the cell itself)?”
At least some things appear to be built without the direct participation of DNA. Most cell walls have a very thin inner membrane and a much thicker outer membrane. If you’re very very careful, you can use enzymes to dissolve the outer cell wall while leaving the inner membrane intact. If you do this and then really coddle the resulting “naked” cells, the cells will continue to grow and divide, but they will never re-grow the outer cell wall.
Since the naked cells retain all of their DNA, but the cell walls don’t regrow, the DNA must not be responsible for building them. But that’s a far cry from what Wells claims.
Sorry, wrong reply button.
That’s the difficulty, Eric. Your six-your-old could do just as well because no specifics are offered. Doubtless, better eyesight is useful in spotting snake camouflage pattern, but if one makes one’s living as as hunter-gatherer in a sometimes hostile environment, it’s hard to think of a situation where better eyesight wouldn’t be an advantage. And if we assume the conventional evolution story, it’s hard to see why spotting snakes wouldn’t be an advantage for many animals who did not go on to develop great intellects.
And do we have any evidence that snakes have changed much in the past 200,000 years?