The discovery of what’s thought to be the first four-legged snake fossil is giving scientists a closer look at how the scaly creatures evolved from lizards.
A 113-million-year-old fossil from Brazil is the first four-legged snake that scientists have ever seen. Several other fossil snakes have been found with hind limbs, but the new find is believed to be a direct ancestor of modern snakes.
The unusual remains, 20 centimeters long with tiny 1-centimeter legs, were reported by researchers at England’s University of Portsmouth in the journal Science on Thursday.
Its delicate arms and legs were not used for walking, but probably helped the creature to grab its prey. The fossil shows adaptations for burrowing, not swimming, strengthening the idea that snakes evolved on land.
According to the journal Nature, the fossil was excavated in Brazil decades ago and had been sitting untouched in a private collection until lead scientist, Dave Martill came across it and began studying it.
It really is a fantastic, very very rare and extremely important fossil for evolutionary studies,”he said.
More so, his team hopes the fossil, the oldest definitive snake discovery, will finally reveal the story of how some lizards lost their legs.
It is generally accepted that snakes evolved from lizards at some point in the distant past. What scientists don’t know yet is when they evolved, why they evolved, and what type of lizard they evolved from. This fossil answers some very important questions, for example it now seems clear to us that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards, not from marine lizards,” Martill said in a press release.
The fossil is considered a snake, not a lizard, because of its elongated body; a skull, jaw, vertebrae and impression of scales resembling that of snake’s and the bony remains of its last meal fitting the diet of a snake.
I think the specimen is important, but I do not know what it is. I might be wrong, but that will require me to see the specimen first hand. I’m looking forward to visiting Solnhofen, the museum in Germany where the specimen is housed, ” according to a biological scientist named, Michael Caldwell of the University of Alberta told National Geographic.