The oldest baby snake found in fossil amber

В Мьянме нашли самого древнего детеныша змеи

First fossilized snake embryo ever discovered rewrites history of ancient snakes

Scientists have discovered the first-ever fossilised snake embryo, preserved in a pebble-sized chunk of amber from 105 million years ago.

That skin hasn't been confirmed by the researchers as coming from a snake, but when compared to modern specimens, the scale-like markings look pretty close to that of a snake.

Paleontologist Michael Caldwell, a study co-author from the University of Alberta, said "this snake is linked to ancient snakes from Argentina, Africa, India and Australia".

The ancient embryo was studied using CT scans because there is now no technology available to remove the amber while keeping the fossil intact.

The scientists were less successful in identifying the fragment of shed skin near the baby - the skin scrap was so small that they were unable to say for sure if it belonged to the same snake species as the preserved skeleton, they reported in the study. "Not only do we have the first baby snake, we also have the first definitive evidence of a fossil snake living in a forest".

The snake fossil is tiny - missing a head and with about 97 bones all up, the minuscule specimen comes out at only 47.5 millimetres (1.9 inches) in length.

Xiaophis myanmarensis snake hatchlings shown emerging from their eggs on the forest floor 100 million years ago.

The preserved snake is notable also due to its very young age, helping shed light on the development of the ancient snake from embryo toward adulthood.

University of Alberta paleontologists worked with global scientists to study the ancient embryo, which was discovered in Myanmar.

"The new species is the first Mesozoic snake to be found in a forested environment, indicating greater ecological diversity among early snakes than previously thought", the study authors wrote in their paper. Other bones remain, however, revealing a structure that helps experts understand the critter and where it fits in with existing present-day snakes. Furthermore, while lizard fossils are abundant in the northern continents that once made up the supercontinent of Laurasia, snake fossils are very rare.

"Amber collects everything it touches - kind of like super glue - and then holds onto it for a hundred million years", said Caldwell. "In this particular specimen, part of what makes it more snake-like is the diamond shape of the scales". However, finding one snake in Burmese amber suggests that there are probably more waiting to be discovered and studied, he adds.

Anatomical features suggest development of the backbone of snakes appears to have changed little in almost 100 million years. Based on the fragments present in the amber, the researchers concluded the snakes lived in a forest environment. Worldwide, only around 15 fossils have been found from this period.

Latest News