In 2016, Lida Xing scoured the amber markets of Myanmar when a trader lured him to his booth, with what he said was the skin of an amber-enclosed crocodile Dr. Xing inspected the specimen through its honey-colored sheath and noticed the diamond-shaped pattern of its scales. He realized that it was a 99 million year old snake skin .
Dr. Xing, a paleontologist from the Chinese University of Earth Sciences in Beijing, had previously found a feathered dinosaur tail and a juvenile in amber boxes. But he said that of the hundreds of thousands of amber pieces discovered in the area, no one had yet found a snake.
He bought the snake skin and met with Michael Caldwell, a snake paleontologist at the University of Alberta. A few minutes before Dr. Xing made his flight to Canada, another colleague notified him of another, recently discovered snake species that was more astonishing than the first: trapped in a silver dollar amber was a baby snake.
"The fossil is the first baby snake and the oldest still-to-find baby snake," Dr. Xing. Before this finding, paleontologists had not discovered a fossilized baby snake, not even in the fossil record of the rock. Caldwell.
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Dr. Xing and Dr. Caldwell reported on Wednesday's findings in the Science Advances journal. The work provides insights into the evolution of snakes, their early anatomical evolution and their prehistoric distribution throughout the world.
Only the lower half of the baby snake's tortuous body was preserved in amber, which is fossilized tree resin. Because the skull was missing, the people who found the fossil thought the tiny creature in it was either a centipede or a centipede.
But a closer examination revealed his bones. And by using a micro-CT scanner and a synchrotron, scientists confirmed that the specimen was a baby snake, a new species they called Xiaophis myanmarensis. It is similar to existing types of pipe and grass snakes.
The researchers found that the fossilized snake was either an embryo or a newborn based on development from his spinal cord. Like modern baby snakes, the conserved baby had Dr. Caldwell's tiny vertebral bones, but a large spinal cord. This is a telltale sign that the snake is still evolving, as well as the first direct evidence that the developmental processes in the spine of a baby snake were detected at least 100 million years ago and have remained relatively stable since.
The researchers could not say if the dandruff snake skin belonged to the same species as the baby snake.
Ryan McKellar, a paleontologist from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Canada and an author on paper, said the fossilized snake skin was trapped with plants, cockroaches and insect excrement. These indications indicate that the ancient serpent lived in the forest. This may seem like a likely place for a skidding serpent, but before this discovery paleontologists had no direct evidence of snakes that lived in forests during the Mesozoic E ra.
Scientist are not sure where snakes come from and how they spread around the world. The new specimens provide clues to a possible route for their prehistoric movement around the planet, Dr. McKellar.
About 100 million years ago, when the snakes were encased in tree resin, Myanmar was part of a migratory island between today's Asia and Australia. This island finally swam to the shores of Laurasia, a supercontinent that at that time encompassed today's Europe and Asia.
"These snakes would have been there," he said.
Previous Reports on Amber Trapped Fossils