Snake Fossils Push Snake Origins Back To The Age Of Dinosaurs

After dating four newly discovered ancient snake fossils, researchers now believe that the earliest known snakes slithered the Earth during the time of dinosaurs, likely preying on the young offspring and eggs of dinosaurs.

The recently discovered snake fossils date the ancient reptiles between 140 and 167 million years old, according to a recent study which was published in the Nature Communications journal. That would make these snakes 70 million years older than the previous record for an ancient snake fossil.

The lead author of the study, Michael Caldwell, explained to Discovery News that it’s quite likely the “snakes ate young dinosaurs” or their eggs. Caldwell, who is chair of the University of Alberta’s Department of Biological Sciences and the president of the Canadian Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, cited an example from the Late Cretaceous of India, where a well preserved snake was discovered in a “dinosaur nest with embryos of the dinosaur still in the egg.”

“(…) very likely that snakes ate young dinosaurs or preyed upon their eggs. A very good example comes from the Late Cretaceous of India where a well preserved snake was found in a sauropod dinosaur nest with embryos of the dinosaur still in the egg.”

In the south of England, a small snake that may have been a juvenile was discovered. The snake, Eophis underwoodi, dated back 167 million years ago, making it the oldest known snake. This snake resided in either a swamp or a marsh environment.

Diablophis gilmorei was discovered in Colorado and dates back 155 million years ago, making it the second oldest amongst the four recently discovered and dated snake fossils. Gilmorei lived in either a river or a swamp.

Portugal was home to the largest snake of the bunch, Portugalophis lignites, which also dates back 155 million years.

The youngest snake of the bunch dates back 140 million years and resided in a lake region in Western Europe. The youngest is known as Parviraptor estesi, and researchers believe its environment was full of algae as well as snails.

The remains of all four snakes were preserved in rocks which were deposited in water.

Caldwell believes that it’s possible snakes moved around the planet by swimming, as he was quoted in a CBS News report as having said that “it’s very possible.” He also believes these ancient snakes likely “had four legs” in addition to a short body; however, there aren’t the fossils to prove it.

“Is it possible, like a lot of other animals today, they moved around the planet by swimming? Yep, it’s very possible. Almost all modern snakes are perfectly comfortable in the water (…) It could very well be that what you would see in terms of the missing link features is that this animal would have had four legs and a short body (…) Body-wise, it wouldn’t have looked like a modern snake but the skull is clearly demonstrating very snaky features.”

An earlier discovery by Caldwell and his colleagues unveiled 90 to 100 million year old marine snakes from Argentina, the West Bank, and Lebanon which had small but well developed rear limbs.

In somewhat related news, Inquisitr reported that a deadly brown snake had swam ashore on an Australian beach.

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[Image via Wikipedia]