Scientists from the University of Portsmouth and the University of Bath have discovered the first four-legged snake ever. The 113-million-year-old fossil was found in Brazil and it is assumed to be the direct ancestor of nowadays snakes. More details about the discovery were published in the journal Science.
The snake shows delicate limbs which were probably used for grabbing the pray, not for walking. In addition it seems to have adapted to burrowing and not swimming, as expected. This makes the idea that snakes evolved on land more realistic. This has been debated for a long time by paleontologists. According to one of the authors of the study Dr. Nick Longrich from the University of Bath it is quite clear that the snake was not aquatic.
Researchers have found snakes with hind limbs before, but this is the first fossil which they considered to be the most primitive form of the snakes that we know today.
The snake was named Tetrapodophis amplectus. It is very small since it was a juvenile: it measures just 20 cm, but researchers say that it could have grown much more. The smallest tail bone from the four-legged snake is only a quarter of a millimeter and its head is as big as an adult’s fingernail.
Longrich also said that to him, an evolutionary biologist, such a four-legged snake is so fantastic that it seems almost too good to be true. He also said that the snake was exhibited in a museum where it could be viewed by anyone who wished.
Dave Martill from the University of Portsmouth was the lead author of the study. He remarked:
“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 discovery has offered them insight into how snakes evolved.
Obviously the most remarkable feature of the ancient animal are its legs. The ones in the front have only once centimeter long, whereas the back legs are a bit longer. The front legs have tiny wrists and elbows and hands which measure only five millimeters. On the other hand the feet are larger than the hands. They were most likely used to catch the prey, which was most likely a salamander.
Image Source: csmonitor.com