Scientists believe that males of these snakes evolved large eyes to spot their mates in the ocean

Scientists believe that males of these snakes evolved large eyes to spot their mates in the ocean

Episaurian snake (Royal Society Open Science, 2023. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.231261)

Episaurine snake

(Royal Society for Open Science, 2023. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.231261)

love is blind? Not much for an aipysurine eel. Males of this Indo-Pacific species prefer to take a good, long look at potential mates before making a move.

A team of four researchers from Australia recently discovered that male episaurian sea snakes appear to have evolved relatively large eyes for a very specific reason. They hypothesize that these big peepers aren't just for show — they're actually an evolutionary feature that helps male episaurines find their perfect mate in the vast ocean.

Aipysurines are a great group. These venomous snakes once called Earth home, but millions of years ago, they dived and adapted to life in the Indo-Pacific region. While they still need to rise to the surface to get air, they have become masters of the marine world, hunting fish and crustaceans among the coral reefs.

However, finding a mate proved more difficult than they thought. Imagine a dimly lit underwater bar – the perfect place for a romantic encounter. But scent, the landowner's secret weapon, is useless in the aquatic world. Enter the big eyes.

After studying more than 400 specimens from six species of these venomous snakes, researchers realized that as these snakes moved out to sea, males may have evolved larger eyes to compensate for the loss of scent-based tracking. Today, their improved vision allows them to spot females from afar more easily.

But researchers suggest another reason for these impressive interlopers: dinner! In the ever-changing marine environment, having a clear view is essential for catching fish and crustaceans. The bigger the eyes, the better the holiday.

Meanwhile, episaurines also exhibit dimorphism, meaning females are larger than their male counterparts. It may allow them to bear more children, or it may be linked to a shift towards a nutrient-dense diet compared to their male counterparts.

Interestingly, the researchers also point out that small size in males is common in species where physical competition for mates is not a major factor. In the case of episaurines, finding each other in the vast ocean seems to be the biggest challenge, and good eyesight seems to be the key.

The results of this study were detailed in Royal Society Open Science It can be accessed here.

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