Advertisement

Snake entombed in amber offers insights into early serpent evolution

Amber fossils can help scientists get a better idea of the types habitat these early snakes inhabited as they moved and evolved.

By Brooks Hays
Snake entombed in amber offers insights into early serpent evolution
Researchers found the snake embryo inside an ancient amber fossil from Myanmar. Photo by Ming Bai/Chinese Academy of Sciences

July 19 (UPI) -- Paleontologists have discovered a snake embryo in a 105-million-year-old amber fossil, the first of its kind. The find has offered scientists important insights into the evolution of modern snakes.

"This snake is linked to ancient snakes from Argentina, Africa, India and Australia," Michael Caldwell, a paleontologist and professor at the University of Alberta in British Columbia, said in a news release. "It is an important -- and until now, missing -- component of understanding snake evolution from southern continents, that is Gondwana, in the mid-Mesozoic."

Advertisement

The tectonic rearrangement that followed the breakup of Gondwana helped early snakes migrate across the globe -- across Africa, Madagascar, Australia, India and Myanmar.

Amber fossils can help scientists get a better idea of the types of habitat these early snakes inhabited as they moved and evolved.

RELATED Feral cats pose serious threat to Australia's reptiles

"It is clear that this little snake was living in a forested environment with numerous insects and plants, as these are preserved in the clast," said Caldwell. "Not only do we have the first baby snake, we also have the first definitive evidence of a fossil snake living in a forest."

X-ray imaging helped researchers analyze the fossil. Scientists compared the ancient snake embryo to the embryos of modern snakes, which revealed differences in the ways the serpents developed vertebrae and notochords.

Advertisement

Researchers detailed their analysis in a paper published this week in the journal Science Advances.

RELATED Fossil reveals new species of ancient marine lizard

"All of these data refine our understanding of early snake evolution, as 100-million year-old snakes are known from only 20 or so relatively complete fossil snake species," said Caldwell. "There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilized baby snake."

RELATED Ancient fossil fills a 75 million-year gap, rewrites lizard history

Latest Headlines

Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us

Advertisement