Molecular phylogeny reveals hidden diversity among Cuban blindsnakes

Open Access
Lipp, Kelly M
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Dr S Blair Hedges, Thesis Supervisor
  • Stephen Wade Schaeffer, Honors Advisor
  • Typhlops lumbricalis
  • typhlopids
  • typhlopidae
  • scolecophidia
  • blindsnake
  • cryptic species
  • phylogeny
  • Cuba
Blindsnakes of the genus Typhlops display exceptional diversity. Recent studies revealed numerous cryptic species in Australia and the Caribbean and have inspired further investigation of the worm-like family of snakes (Typhlopidae). However, their conservative body plan has severely limited morphological analyses, and as a result, phylogenetic studies have turned to molecular methods. The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the diversity of species of Typhlops in Cuba and to better understand the phylogeny and biogeography of the blindsnake family through DNA sequence analyses. Four mitochondrial genes (12S rRNA, 16S rRNA, CytB, and ND2) were sequenced for 82 specimens of T. lumbricalis and five outgroup species to generate phylogenetic trees. Based on these studies, at least fifteen new Cuban blindsnake species were identified, and T. lumbricalis was restricted to the Bahamas. Separate morphological analyses support the molecular findings and will be published in a following paper. To further resolve blindsnake molecular phylogeny, future research should focus on sequencing additional nuclear genes and calculating molecular divergence times. In addition, to broaden understanding of phylogeny and biogeography of the snake family, samples from the entire West Indian blindsnake fauna should be studied to gain a broader perspective on the evolution of the group in the Caribbean region.