Biology Reference
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ease, and limbless locomotion lies at the heart of their intrigue. Sir Richard Owen, a
nineteenth-century anatomist, claimed that they “out swim the fish and out climb the
monkey,” 9 and in biblical Proverbs “the way of a serpent on a rock” and that of “an eagle
in the air” are “too wonderful” for comprehension. Snake movements are as perplex-
ing as flight, but whereas we envy birds, no curious Leonardo da Vinci ever designed a
slithering machine. Nonetheless, although crawling is a dubious prospect and so costly
as to appear improbable, it's a common theme over the evolutionary long haul. A more
detailed look reveals how snakes have achieved such spectacular success, along with
tangible examples of their influence on primates.
Curious primates and deadly serpents: humans (Graham Alexander and author, right ) watching
a ninety-seven-pound, fourteen-foot southern African python at Dinokeng Preserve, South Africa,
September 25, 2011. (Photo: K. R. Zamudio)
The origin of tetrapod limbs left us with about thirty thousand species of living am-
phibians, reptiles (including birds), and mammals, yet appendages have been lost sur-
prisingly often in their nearly four-hundred-million-year history. Of course, there aren't
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