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Hump-nosed lizard, Sri Lanka

A hump-nosed lizard (<em>Lyriocephalus scutatus</em>) near Kandy, Sri Lanka

A hump-nosed lizard (Lyriocephalus scutatus) near Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Alex Pyron, an assistant professor of biology at The George Washington (GW) University, and a team of researchers have created the first large-scale evolutionary family tree--or phylogeny-- for every snake and lizard species on Earth. The team catalogued 4,161 species of snakes and lizards, or squamates.

"Squamates include all lizards and snakes found throughout the globe, including around 9,500 species on every continent except Antarctica, and found in most oceans," said Pyron. "This is everything from cobras to garter snakes to tiny geckos to the Komodo dragon to the Gila monster. They range from tiny threadsnakes that can curl up on a dime to 10 feet monitor lizards and 30 foot pythons. They eat everything from ants to wildebeest."

The phylogeny includes all families and subfamilies and most genus and species groups. Pyron says that, while there are gaps on some branches of the tree, the structure of the tree goes a long way toward fully mapping every genus and species group.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biological Informatics program under grant DBI 09-05765. To learn more about the new phylogeny, see the GW news story George Washington University biologist maps the family tree of all known snake and lizard groups. (Date of Image: June 2011)

Credit: Alex Pyron, George Washington University
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