First fossilized snake embryo ever discovered rewrites history of ancient snakes

Baby snake found encased in 105-million-year-old amber provides new clues to how snakes evolved.

A fossilized baby snake discovered in a 105-million-year-old amber fragment shows the ancient species lived in a forest environment in what is now Myanmar. (Illustration: Cheung Chung Tat)
A fossilized baby snake discovered in a 105-million-year-old amber fragment shows the ancient species lived in a forest environment in what is now Myanmar. (Illustration: Cheung Chung Tat)

The first-historically speaking disclosure of an old snake fetus, protected in 105-million-year-old amber, gives essential new data on the advancement of modern snakes, as indicated by another examination drove by University of Alberta scientists.

Caldwell and his international team, including collaborators from Australia, China and the United States, have tracked the migration of these ancient Gondwanan snakes beginning 180 million years ago when they were carried by tectonic movements of continents and parts of continents, from Australia and India to Madagascar and Africa, and finally to Asia, in modern-day India and Myanmar.

The golden section in which the example was discovered likewise given imperative insights about its condition.

Paleontologist Michael Caldwell, lead author, and professor in the Department of Biological Sciences said, “This snake is linked to ancient snakes from Argentina, Africa, India and Australia. It is important—and until now, missing—component of understanding snake evolution from southern continents, that is Gondwana, in the mid-Mesozoic.”

The tiny snake's well-preserved skeleton (reconstruction at right) was found encased in a pebble-sized chunk of amber. (Image: Ming Bai, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
The tiny snake’s well-preserved skeleton (reconstruction at right) was found encased in a pebble-sized chunk of amber. (Image: Ming Bai, Chinese Academy of Sciences)

“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. Not only do we have the first baby snake, we also have the first definitive evidence of a fossil snake living in a forest.”

Scientists used CT scans to study the ancient snake and compared it with the young of modern snakes. Their results yielded unexpected insight into the development and embryology of the ancient specimen, including the formation of the vertebrae and notochord.

Caldwell said, “All of these data refine our understanding of early snake evolution, as 100-million-year-old snakes are known from only 20 or so relatively complete fossil snake species. There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilized baby snake.”

The paper was published in Science Advances.