First fossilized snake embryo ever discovered rewrites history of ancient snakes

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Scientists have discovered the first-ever fossilised snake embryo, preserved in a pebble-sized chunk of amber from 105 million years ago.

Scales are visible in a preserved snake skin fragment from one of the snake fossils.

"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", palaeontologist Michael Caldwell from the University of Alberta explained to LiveScience.

The ancient embryo was studied using CT scans because there is now no technology available to remove the amber while keeping the fossil intact.

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The authors draw a parallel between X. myanmarensis and modern red cylindrical snakes that reach a length of 70-80 cm to Determine the species of the second sample due to a lack of preservation has failed.

The baby snake specimen is the first such fossil of that developmental age known to science. According to their estimates, this snake occurs from the late Cretaceous and lasted about 186 million years.

"We found the remaining skeleton in the amber is 4.75 centimeters long".

It is also believed that some discoveries may have eluded scientists as amber is often mined by private individuals and companies who then proceed to what they find to the highest bidder, usually Chinese collectors or museums. The new species - named Xiaophis myanmarensis - lived before Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the Earth.

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"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", said Caldwell. Intriguingly, the snake's head is missing. Caldwell stated that the snake was found in a mine that was just opened two or three years ago. The fossil is incredible and particularly rare, as few were found before. "In this particular specimen, part of what makes it more snake-like is the diamond shape of the scales", Caldwell says.

Amber has preserved many fascinating creatures over the years.

"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", explained Caldwell.

This has not been shown before for this time period, as the few other fossil snakes discovered come from rocks associated with rivers or the sea.

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Anatomical features suggest development of the backbone of snakes appears to have changed little in almost 100 million years. Back in June, different researchers found a tiny frog from the same time period, making it the oldest direct evidence of frogs in a tropical rainforest.

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