Snake Fossil Record Rewritten

January 27, 2015

Researchers digging not out in the field but in museum fossil collections, have discovered four new snake species that are older than the oldest known snake fossils by 65 million years, according to a research paper published in the journal Nature Communications. The four snake species lived at the same time as dinosaurs walked the earth between 140 to 167 million years ago (Middle Jurassic to early Cretaceous periods). The oldest previous snake lived about 100 million years ago.

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The four snake species (Portugalophis lignites, Diablophis gilmorei, Parviraptor estesi, and Eophis underwoodi) all apparently lived in or near bodies of water as their remains were preserved in rocks deposited in water.

They all lived in what is now Britain, Portugal and the United States and had some form of forelimbs and hind limbs but a snake like head, which differs from that of lizards due to the capability of snakes to open their jaws really wide in efforts to swallow large items like dinosaur eggs. It was the presence of these jaws in the fossils that convinced the scientists that the fossils, which were originally labeled as lizards, were indeed snakes. The teeth present on the fossils were also snake-like. 

Lead author Michael Caldwell, chair of the University of Alberta's Department of Biological Sciences says that these snakes evolved earlier than the Middle Jurassic period and believes that older and more primitive snakes probably existed and their fossils are yet to be found. 

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