The Origin of Snakes presents perspectives on the past and present state of the understanding of snake origins. It reviews and critiques data and ideas from paleontology and neontology (herpetology), as well as ideas from morphological and molecular phylogenetics. The author reviews the anatomy and morphology of extant snakes. Methods are also critiqued, including those empirical and theoretical methods employed to hypothesize ancestral ecologies for snakes. The modern debate on squamate phylogeny and snake ingroup phylogeny using molecules and morphology is examined critically to provide insights on origins and evolution.
- Modern Snakes
- What is a Snake?
- Ancient Snakes - The Fossil Record
- Burrowing Snakes, Fossil Snakes, and the Origins Debate
- Discovering the "Ancestral Snake"
- Snake Palaeoecology: Reading the Rocks for Habits and Habitats
- Snake Phylogeny
- Origins: Where, When, Who and How
- Conclusions: Where Next?
Michael Caldwell was born and raised in Alberta, where as a small child he developed his love for fossils. He strayed for a time from his passion for science and palaeontology, but made his way back after a "Devonian Fossil Epiphany" on Parker's Ridge, Sunwapta Pass, on the Saskatchewan Glacier, with his then two small boys, Garrett and Landon, in the summer of 1987. He was left with no choice but to pursue his second undergraduate degree, a B.Sc. Honors Palaeontology, that was completed at the University of Alberta in 1991. He became a doctoral student of Dr. Robert L. Carroll's at McGill University, graduating in November, 1995, held a brief postdoctoral position at George Washington University, with Dr. James Clark (January-March, 1996), went on the "Snake with Legs World Tour" with Dr. Michael S. Y. Lee (April-May, 1996), and returned to the Field Museum, Chicago, (June, 1996) where he finished out his postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Olivier Rieppel. He was employed as a Research Scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Canada (April, 1998 to July, 2000) until he accepted a position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta. He is now Full Professor and has served as Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences for ten years; he remains cross-appointed to both Biological Sciences and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, and most recently served as founding President of the Canadian Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology (2013-2017).
"This deep dive into the evolution of the lineage we commonly refer to as snakes examines lines of evidence for how we understand the Mesozoic origins of a number of squamate reptile lineages. A central thesis is the reminder that snakes are not unique in lacking limbs, but instead the lineage of Lepidosaurs we refer to as snakes are characterized by derived and distinct sets of kinetic head morphologies."
– R. Graham Reynolds, Biology, University of North Carolina