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Brazil Wants Possession of the Four-Legged Snake Fossil

August 5, 2015



Do you remember Tetrapodophis amplectus, the four-legged snake that we reported on in July which sat in a private collection until palaeobiologist David Martill rediscovered it in 2012 and determined that the fossil was indeed a snake?


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image by artist Julia T. Cstonyi

J. T. Cstonyi

This is an artist rendering of what Tetrapodophis amplectus may have looked like.

Well, the Brazilian government apparently wants the fossil back as it came from the Crato Formation in Brazil, Nature.com reports. The Brazilian National Department of Mineral Production has launched an investigation to determine whether the four-legged snake fossil was illegally removed from the country. 

Brazilian authorities learned the fossil was from Brazil when the story went viral last month, and say that the scientists who published the paper on the snake should have informed Brazil when they studied the fossil. Since 1942, it has been illegal to move fossils discovered in Brazil out of the country without the permission from the government. However, Martill told Nature News that informing a country scientists are studying a fossil found within their borders is not something that scientists do. 

“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Brazilian fossils [in museum collections] all over the world,” Martill told Nature.com. “It is a bit distracting if scientists have to mess about with the legality of fossils before they study them. I see thousands of fossils every year from all over the planet. I am not going to write to the governments of all those countries just to check each and every fossil.”

Martill’s colleague, Nicholas Longrich, a palaeontologist with the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, told Nature that personally he would have liked to see the fossil returned to Brazil, but it was not his fossil.

‘We did discuss at length whether the specimen should be returned, given that we were uncertain about when it left. But the counterargument was that there was no evidence that any laws had been broken, either,” Longrich, told Nature.com

Tetrapodophis amplectus could be the evolutionary link between lizards and snakes. The fossil is not the oldest snake fossil on record, but could be the most important given its snake body with lizard-like forelimbs and hind limbs.


John B. Virata keeps a western hognose snake, a ball python, two corn snakes, a king snake, and two leopard geckos. His first snake, a California kingsnake, was purchased for $5. His first pet reptile was a green anole that arrived in a small box via mail order. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata 

 

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