A team of researchers has analyzed what seem to be the oldest snake fossils in the world. The fossils belong to four different species of ancient snakes that lived approximately 167 million years ago.
The oldest snake fossils reveal that one of the snakes was about 25 cm in length and goes by the scientific name of Eophis underwoodi. This snake species remains were unearthed in a quarry near Oxford, in England.
The fours snake fossils were discovered in three different locations: The United States, Britain and Portugal.
The scientists believe that these fossils could rewrite the evolution of snakes and could push back the origins of snakes by tens of millions of years.
Until this recent discovery, the oldest snake fossils dated back 102 million years ago, according to Michael Caldwell, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta. Caldwell was the lead author of the study which was published in the journal Nature Communications.
Experts believe snakes evolved from lizards, and there are several fossils of ancient snakes showing these creatures had small back legs.
The fossils analyzed recently did not include the entire snake skeletons, but researchers said all four fossils may have had hind limbs.
Caldwell said that even though these ancient snakes may have had some form of legs, it doesn’t mean they were able to walk. Caldwell believes the snakes moved by slithering and may have used the back legs for grasping things.
Another researcher involved in the study is Sebastian Apesteguia, a paleontologist expert from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council in Argentina. He says that although snakes have caused fear and fascination since very ancient times, little is known about their origins and how they evolved. Professor Apesteguia speculates that the first snake species may have appeared approximately 190 million years ago.
According to the scientists, the four snakes lived in a time when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. One of the oldest snakes, called Eophis, is believed to have lived in or near swamps, feeding on insects, tadpoles and small fish.
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