Biology

Scientists find prehistoric baby snake preserved in amber

Scientists find prehistoric ba...
A life reconstruction of Xiaophis in its natural environment
A life reconstruction of Xiaophis in its natural environment
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The amber fragment containing the baby snake,  and 3D digital reconstruction of its skeleton
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The amber fragment containing the baby snake,  and 3D digital reconstruction of its skeleton
A life reconstruction of Xiaophis in its natural environment
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A life reconstruction of Xiaophis in its natural environment

We've all heard about ancient insects getting preserved in amber (fossilized tree resin), with similarly-preserved items including dinosaur feathers, mammalian red blood cells and a bizarre spider. Now, for the first time, scientists have found an amber-encased prehistoric snake.

Led by Dr. Lida Xing (China University of Geosciences) and Prof. Mike Caldwell (University of Alberta, Canada), an international team recently discovered the fossil in Myanmar.

At the time that the baby snake initially became trapped in the sticky resin, however – approximately 100 million years ago – it was located in the supercontinent of Gondwana. The region that we now know as Myanmar (aka Burma) broke off of that continent and subsequently drifted north until it collided with Asia.

The amber fragment containing the baby snake,  and 3D digital reconstruction of its skeleton
The amber fragment containing the baby snake,  and 3D digital reconstruction of its skeleton

Known as Xiaophis myanmarensis, the snake is thought to be an infant due to its small size (its estimated length is under 8 cm/3.1 inches), the relatively large space occupied by its spinal cord, and the fact that its backbone lacks the complex joints which such snakes are known to have acquired as they reached adulthood.

According to the scientists, it provides a "vital link" to snakes that went on to evolve in other parts of the world.

"It dates back to the age of the dinosaurs, well before snakes started to differentiate into modern groups," says team member Dr. Alessandro Palci, of Australia's Flinders University. "This Asian fossil helps shed light on how primitive snakes dispersed from the southern to the northern continents."

A paper on the finding was published this Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

Sources: Flinders University, University of Alberta

3 comments
BrianK56
100 million years is hard to wrap my head around.
jgb
It all works by circular reasoning brian, This must be so old because it is found in this strata and this strata must be so old because we found these things in it. All very wonderful when you know how the game is played.
Coby Gottlieb
I am actually trying to look for small limbs this snake may have. 100 million years ago they say, that snakes use to have limbs and just evolved into a footless creature, but I can't see anything foot or limb in this photo.