Fossilised snake embryo found in 105 million-year-old amber


"No one has ever seen a fossilized baby snake of any kind whatsoever".

A baby snake has been discovered encased in a piece of Burmese amber that dates back to around 100 million years ago, unveiling a new species, a group of scientists from China, Australia, US, and Canada announced on Wednesday.

The snake's body can be seen inside the chunk of amber, made up of 97 vertebrae plus attached ribs.

Scientists are not sure where snakes originated from and how they spread throughout the world.

"Whether or not these early snakes were giving live birth, which is common in modern snakes, or whether they were hatching from eggs, is unclear", said Caldwell to National Geographic.

Individual vertebrae are extremely small, comparable in size and morphology to those of a neonate Asian pipe snake.

In another piece of amber, researchers found a part of snakeskin with circular patterns.

The ancient fossil was found in southeast Asia along with another piece of amber that is believed to contain a piece of skin from an adult snake.

Snake skin
Oldest Fossil of a Baby Snake Discovered Trapped in Amber Tomb

Light photographs of probable snake shed skin: (A) overall view of the complete specimen; scale bar - 5 mm; (B) close-up of the left portion of the specimen showing converging scale rows (center top); scale bar - 1 mm; (C) close-up of the right mid-region of the specimen; scale bar - 1 mm.

"The scales are organized as one would expect in a snake or a lizard, in diagonal rows". Before this finding, paleontologists had not uncovered a fossilized baby snake even in the rock fossil record, said Caldwell.

The fossil in amber was recovered in Myanmar, where various similar fossils have been retrieved. In 2016, he was contacted by a dealer offering what was believed to be the skin of a crocodile.

The second specimen came to his attention in the summer of that year, and was initially thought to be a centipede or millipede. A technique called synchrotron x-ray micro-computed tomography allowed the researchers to get a close look at the tiny specimens inside the amber without having to break them apart.

Xiaophis myanmarensis lived in a forest environment in what is now Myanmar. This mine, as Caldwell stated, has a high centralization of vertebrates.

"There are no adequately preserved snakes that are significantly older, anywhere", comments paleontologist John Scanlon at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. The age of the snake in the fossil also makes it very important in understanding how ancient snake embryos matured.

The discovery is very important as it offers us more information about snakes. The fossil skeleton is missing its skull which leads the researchers to estimate that in total it could not have been more than 8 centimeters. They settled on Xiaophis myanmarensis, where "Xiao" is the Chinese word for "dawn", "ophis" the Greek word for "snake", and "myanmarensis" for the place of its discovery, Myanmar.

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