Tech UPTechnologyA baby snake from the Age of Dinosaurs found...

A baby snake from the Age of Dinosaurs found in amber

The first known fossil remains of a baby snake have appeared in a piece of amber found in Myanmar. The creature, a new species called Xiaophis myanmarensis, suffered its premature disappearance about 99 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period (which began 145 million years ago and ended 66.4 million years ago), according to an international team of researchers in their article published in the journal Science Advances.

How do we know it is a baby snake?

Obviously, first and foremost, it is very small. The fossil, with only the skull missing, is about 5 centimeters long. In total, the snake would probably be less than 8 centimeters in length. Furthermore, their incomplete bone formation matches what we can see in neonatal snakes today.

Has no one found a fossilized snake before?

The snake fossil record has been notoriously sparse until about the last 20 years, according to Michael Caldwell, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada and a co-author of the work.

Snakes do not keep well at all in general. And this baby snake is especially delicate, with 97 vertebrae as thin as a cone waffle and assembled into just 47 millimeters of skeleton.

“Even if something so small were conserved in the fossil record, by the usual canons of fossil preservation, you would never find it,” says Caldwell. The sedimentary rock would crush the fragile remains and separate the vertebrae, making it nearly impossible to identify the individual specimen. Thanks to the misfortune of this little calf to get caught in the sticky amber sap, we can now count on an exceptionally preserved skeleton in 3D.

What can this fossil teach us?

This fossil, plus the skin of a larger snake from a different species, offers the first evidence that some Cretaceous-era snakes lived in forests. This is not necessarily a surprise, says Caldwell. At that time in Earth’s history, snakes were widely distributed throughout the world, but with other snake fossils we don’t always get enough clues to identify the habitat of the particular animal. Because amber emanates from a tree, anything kept inside must have lived nearby.

Researchers believe that the new species, Xiaophis myanmarensis , is related to some modern snakes in Southeast Asia.

The piece of amber holding the baby snake also has a piece of skin covering it that researchers believe may have belonged to a larger snake. However, they cannot tell if the snake is the same species as the baby, or if it is something else entirely.

Either way, considering this incredible find, we’re sure this won’t be the last time we hear about amber discoveries from Myanmar as experts had previously recovered a feathered dinosaur tail and a trapped amber bird from Myanmar. Yes indeed; so far no one had found a snake.

 

Referencia: Lida Xing et al. A mid-Cretaceous embryonic-to-neonate snake in amber from Myanmar, Science Advances (2018). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5042

 

The fossil remains of the new species of prehistoric snake preserved in amber found in Myanmar. Image credit: Ming Bai, Chinese Academy of Sciences

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