Scientists discover world's oldest snake, used to live with dinosaurs, now trapped in amber

Snake fossil
Ming Bai, Chinese Academy of Sciences

A team of researchers led by Lida Xing, a palaeontologist at the China University of Geosciences, Beijing has discovered the tiny remains of a 100 million-year-old baby snake trapped inside amber in Myanmar.

The new species has been named Xiaophis myanmarensis, and experts believed that it lived in the mid-Cretaceous period, many years before the Tyrannosaurus rex walked on earth. Palaeontologists also claimed that this is the world's oldest snake fossil ever discovered.

During the study, Xing analyzed the amber and found that the fossil's skull was absent. Further study on the tiny fossil which measured just 5 centimetres in length revealed that there are diamond-shaped scales in it. Later, with the help of Michael Caldwell, a snake palaeontologist at the University of Alberta, Xing confirmed that what he discovered is the oldest snake fossil ever found.

As per researchers, the fossilized snake was either an embryo or a newborn snake that got trapped in the amber. Michael Cadwell revealed that the preserved baby snake had tint vertebral bones and a large spinal cord tube.

After making the startling discovery, the researchers compared the new fossil's bone structure to an existing database of snake fossils to determine where this oldest snake fossil fit in the evolutionary history.

Further analysis revealed that snakes might have moved from coastal areas to the forest much earlier than previously thought. The study report published in the journal Science Advances also indicated that the spinal cord of snakes has changed very little over millions of years.

"Even though it is a baby, there are very unique features of the top of the vertebrae that have never been seen before in other fossil snakes of a similar kind. Xiaophis fits into the base of the snake family tree, and into a group of snakes that appear to be very ancient," told Michael Cadwell to Live Science.

Researchers believe that studying more about this snake fossil could help how ancient snake embryos develop. Previously, snakes from the mid-Cretaceous period were usually found near water bodies, and this new discovery made it clear that these reptiles were living in the forest areas during that period too.

It was around a month back that an international team of researchers discovered the world's oldest known frog fossil trapped inside amber in Myanmar. After the milestone discovery, researchers revealed that frogs have lived in forests 99 million years ago. The research team involved in this study are now trying to unravel how frogs migrated from wet places to forests.

This article was first published on July 19, 2018