The oldest baby snake found in fossil amber


The carcass of a baby snake has been discovered encased in a chunk of amber, preserving details that'll help researchers expand the evolutionary record. Researchers also believe they found a piece of skin from an adult snake in a separate piece.

A second amber fossil, which appears to contain part of the shed skin of another much larger creature - but scientists can not determine if it is a snake or a lizard.

The oldest fossil of an infant snake ever discovered leaves University of Alberta scientist Tiago Rodrigues Simoes in wonderment.

It's the first example of a dinosaur-age snake that clearly lived on the forest floor and that's significant for a number of reasons.

Based on that data, it seems the ancient snake is similar to other snakes known from the southern supercontinent of Gondwana, which existed in the late Cretaceous.

Examining the fossil, researchers found that 97 of the baby snake's vertebrae, or backbones, were perfectly intact, and while they found many similarities with modern species, there were also several features that are no longer present in snakes today. Nevertheless, the team managed to identify it as a new prehistoric snake species.

Light photographs of probable snake shed skin: (A) overall view of the complete specimen; scale bar - 5 mm; (B) close-up of the left portion of the specimen showing converging scale rows (center top); scale bar - 1 mm; (C) close-up of the right mid-region of the specimen; scale bar - 1 mm. Luda Xing, associate professor at the Beijing University of Geosciences and main writer of the paper explained how he came upon the deposit.

Scientists say the snake may have survived for tens of millions of years in a primitive state, before going extinct. The spinal cord was found to form late in the snake's development; when compared to present-day snakes, very little about their spinal bone development has changed. "No one has ever seen fossils of such small snakes".

An X-ray of the baby snake. Most previous snake fossils have not contained enough evidence to determine the animal's habitat. The fact that snakes have remained mostly the same for so long means that they must be doing something very right and discovering how snakes took to different environments allows scientists to better explain why they have defied extinction again and again.

The creature has been frozen in time for 99 million years.

Anatomical features suggest development of the backbone of snakes appears to have changed little in almost 100 million years.

Fragments of plants and insects found inside the amber confirm that the snake lived in forests.