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.
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.
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