Baby snake fossil in Kachin amber sheds light on snake evolution

A walnut-sized nugget of amber contains the first known example of a fossilized baby snake. Photo: Ming Bai / Chinese Academy of Sciences
A walnut-sized nugget of amber contains the first known example of a fossilized baby snake. Photo: Ming Bai / Chinese Academy of Sciences

The oldest and possibly first fossilized baby snake known to science is the subject of a new paleontological study published last week that offers new insights into the evolutionary history of snakes. The snake was discovered in a chunk of amber discovered in Kachin State’s Tanai Township.

Estimated to have lived 99 million years ago, the snake, given the name Xiaophis myanmarensis, predated Tyrannosaurus rex on earth. According to the study, published in the journal Science Advances, the amber fragment contains plants and insects, in addition to the baby snake, proving that the snake lived in a forested environment. This suggests that snakes moved from coastal and underwater environments to forests earlier than previously thought.

Also among the study’s findings was that the development of snakes’ spinal bones has undergone only marginal changes over millions of years and that the baby Kachin snake is related to ancient snakes that lived in South American, Africa, India, and Australia.

The snake proved such a boon for scientists because other snake fossils from the same period number only around 20, and they are not all complete. Scientists previously thought these ancient snakes lived in and around water, so the new specimen suggests that snakes have been a part of a wider array of ecosystems far earlier than previously thought.

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CITY: YANGONCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: ANIMALS, ENVIRONMENT, HISTORY

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