How Worm Lizards Managed to Get Across the Oceans

Ancient creatures apparently surfed on plant matter
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 11, 2015 10:30 AM CDT
Worm Lizards Spread by Rafting From One Continent to Another
The Iberian worm lizard.   (Wikimedia Commons)

You may not be familiar with worm lizards, but they've actually done quite well for themselves: The 180 living species of amphisbaenians, as they're called, live on five continents, Nature World News reports, and they've been around for a very, very long time. So long, in fact, that experts had believed they spread across the supercontinent Pangaea before it split into the continents we know today. But new research on the long-bodied, segmented creatures—most of which, though not all, lack legs—suggests that's not the case: The creatures actually fanned out across the world after the continents split apart, according to a post at Eureka Alert. So how did the burrowing animals manage to get across the water? That's where the study really gets interesting: It seems that the animals got their start in North America, Newsweek reports, then rafted elsewhere–via "floating vegetation."

It happened shortly after an asteroid hit the Earth some 65 million years ago, likely killing off the dinosaurs. "Continental breakup was about 95 million years ago, and these animals only become widespread 30 million years later," a researcher says. It might seem unlikely that the animals "could have survived a flood clinging to the roots of a fallen tree and then traveled hundreds of miles across an ocean … but having looked at the data, it is the only explanation for the remarkable diversity and spread of not just worm lizards, but nearly every other living thing as well." Indeed, he adds, "once you eliminate the impossible, whatever you're left with, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." (In other prehistoric news, dinosaur remains were recently discovered—by a 4-year-old.)

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