Newly identified snake fossils suggest that these creatures marked their presence on Earth much earlier than previously thought. Remains of four ancient snakes have been found by an international team of scientists, which are between 140 and 167 million years old. The new finding has added another 70 million years to the timeline of snakes and suggests that the snakes were present on Earth alongside the dinosaurs. The discovery has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
Lead author Michael Caldwell, a professor in the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta in Canada stated “The study explores the idea that evolution within the group called ‘snakes’ is much more complex than previously thought. Caldwell added “Importantly, there is now a significant knowledge gap to be bridged by future research, as no fossil snakes are known from between 140 to 100 million years ago.”
It has also been observed that the snakes which were existent during the time of dinosaurs were starkly similar to their modern descendants. Portugalophis lignites, the largest ancient snake having length of about three feet was found in coal deposits in Portugal. From the river deposits in western Colorado, Diablophis gilmorei, a North American species, was discovered.
According to the researchers, the appearance of snakes 100 million years ago is not indicative of their sudden explosive appearance. This however, represents a gap in the fossil record. Snakes were in the process of evolving into their characteristic shape between 167 and 100 million years ago. The fossil remains of the snakes found recently exhibit teeth, jaws and ribs along with characteristics found in modern day snakes like flexible jaws and backward-pointing teeth which are used by the creatures to capture and devour their prey. Some features also match up with the lizards.
There is an ongoing debate about the evolution of snakes. Some scientists opine that they have evolved from burrowing animals as some of the primitive snakes still live in burrows. However, others, including Caldwell, are of the view that they evolved from four-legged marine lizards.