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First-ever four-legged snake fossil discovered in museum collections


Scientists have discovered the first known fossil of a four-legged snake during a routine trip to the museum. The 113-year-old fossil from Brazil with hind limbs is estimated to be the direct ancestor of modern snakes.four-legged-snake-fossil

The delicate arms and legs of the prey was likely to capture the prey, and were not used for walking. Dr. Dave Martill from the University of Portsmouth discovered the fossil in a German Museum. The fossil from Brazil belongs to the Cretaceous period, and revealed that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards and not marine lizards. The fossil shows its adaptations for burrowing, indicating that snakes evolved on land.

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“This is the most primitive fossil snake know, and it’s pretty clearly not aquatic,” said Dr. Nick Longrich from the University of Bath and co-author of the study.

Dr. Longrich explained that the creature’s tail was not paddle shaped, and had no signs of fins.  But, it had a long trunk and a short snout, similar to a burrower. Dr. Martill found the 19.5cm fossil during a trip to the Museum Solnhofen with his students, and has been named as Tetrapodophis amplectus. Dr. Martill worked along with expert German paleontologist Helmut Tischlinger, who documented and photographed the fossil.

The head of the fossil was about the size of an adult fingernail, and the smallest tailbone was only a quarter of a millimeter long. The small front legs measured about 1cm long, and the little elbows and wrists were 5mm in length. The long back legs and the large feet could have helped the snake to catch its prey. Dr. Longrich said that snakes stopped walking and started slithering, and the legs became useless little vestiges. The snake had the remains of a last meal in its stomach, which was likely a salamander. The fossil also revealed that it could have evolved on the ancient supercontinent, and became more widespread recently.

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About Anirudh Madhav

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A movie buff, a bookworm, and a compulsive doodler. All posts by Anirudh

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