'Like magic:' Delicate fossil of oldest baby snake found in amber

Snake fossil

First fossilized snake embryo ever discovered rewrites history of ancient snakes

The skeletal remains from the Xiaophis myanmarensis snake hatchling trapped in amber.

Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth as both as apex predators and gentle giants. Luda Xing, associate professor at the Beijing University of Geosciences and main writer of the paper explained how he came upon the deposit.

Snake skin

"Xiaophis myanmarensis was part of the fauna that rode on this drifting landmass, which like a very big passenger ship transported all sorts of Gondwanan plants and animals to Asia", said Professor Michael Lee, also from Flinders University and the South Australian Museum.

The Xiaophis myanmarensis preserved in amber is the oldest known fossil of a baby snake and the first from its time that was discovered in a forested environment.

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Scientists have recently discovered a baby snake perfectly conserved in ancient amber.

The findings were published online today (July 18) in the journal Science Advances. Nevertheless, the team managed to identify it as a new prehistoric snake species. Buried in a piece of amber which is about the measure of a grown-up's thumb, it incorporates 97 little vertebrae, most with their padded ribs still connected.

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When the specimen was first found, the creature inside was thought to be a centipede or a millipede because the head was missing. But Myanmar's soil has yet to reveal all its treasures, judging by a recent discovery - that of a baby snake, similarly preserved in fossilized tree sap. Based on the numerous anatomical features that are intact, including vertebrae and some soft tissue, the team describes it as either embryonic or newborn, and comparable in size to a modern southeast Asian pipe snake (Cylindrophis ruffus) of the same age. Like modern baby snakes, the preserved baby had tiny vertebral bones but a large spinal cord tube, according to Caldwell. "There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilized baby snake". He probably belongs to the more modern species of snakes, but scientists can't give a precise answer to this question and confirm that this really is snakeskin. Image credit: Ryan McKellar, Royal Saskatchewan Museum. "When it caught the baby snake, it caught the forest floor with the bugs, plants and bug poop - so that it is clear the snake was living in a forest". That may seem like a likely locale for a slithering snake, but before this discovery, paleontologists did not have direct evidence of snakes living in forests during the Mesozoic Era. It appears the animals were more widely spread than previously thought, though the researchers caution more specimens are needed before they can determine routes of slithery migration across the Southern Hemisphere supercontinent of Gondwana.

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