Oldest baby snake fossil, 99 million years old, discovered in Myanmar

James Marshall
July 21, 2018

The remains of a baby snake found preserved in amber from Myanmar are estimated to be 99 million years old. Researchers also believe they found a piece of skin from an adult snake in a separate piece.

"This snake, named Xiaophis myanmarensis, is linked to ancient snakes from Argentina, Africa, India and Australia", said University of Alberta's Professor Michael Caldwell.

The ancient embryo was studied using CT scans because there is now no technology available to remove the amber while keeping the fossil intact.

Now, the discovery of a baby snake in present-day Myanmar is helping researchers to better understand how snakes have changed over millions and millions of years.

This is also the first-ever Mesozoic snake fossil to have come from a forested ecosystem.

The snake fossil is tiny - missing a head and with about 97 bones all up, the minuscule specimen comes out at only 47.5 millimetres (1.9 inches) in length. "These new snake remains add a significant biological component to an already diverse fauna of rare, small-bodied vertebrate fossils from the amber deposits of northeastern Myanmar". Fossils of an ancient snake, Eophis underwoodi, dating back 167 million years, have been found, but they are in fragments and can offer little information.

Study co-author Dr. Lida Xing is a paleontologist from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing. Caldwell stated that the snake was found in a mine that was just opened two or three years ago.

"There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilised baby snake".

"Whether or not these early snakes were giving live birth, which is common in modern snakes, or whether they were hatching from eggs, is unclear". This means that snakes may have already been a part of more prehistoric ecosystems.

Snakes today are a very successful group. Most previous snake fossils have not contained enough evidence to determine the animal's habitat.

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

"We should certainly keep looking, not only in amber, but also in Mongolia and other places that relatives of Xiaophis could have then reached overland".

Dr Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, who is not connected with the research team, said the find gives "invaluable developmental and evolutionary data on ancient snakes".

"It is clear that this little snake was living in a forested environment with numerous insects and plants, as these are preserved in the clast", said Caldwell. They came to the conclusion that almost 100 million years anatomical features of the serpent's spine has changed slightly.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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