A new paleontological study at the University of Portsmouth found that ancestral snakes had four legs over 110 million years ago. The fossil was excavated over 10 years ago in Brazil’s Crato formation, but with subsequent studies, it has been discovered that the four legged creature was closer to modern day snakes, not lizards.
Dr. Dave Martill examined the fossil and brought it the recognition it didn’t previously have, revealing that this very important creature on the evolutionary scale has been mistakenly ignored and confused with something else.
Tetrapodophis lived during the Early Cretaceous period and displayed the well-known features of today’s modern snakes, with one odd addition: it had four tiny limbs. And when they said “tiny”, they truly meant it.
The ancestral creature was just barely over 20cm long (approximately 7.8 inches), with its arms at 4mm (0.15 inches) and legs at 7mm (0.27 inches) in length. Its elongated head was the size of a fingernail with a short snout, fanged teeth and the flexible jaw common of snakes in order to swallow larger prey.
The snake presented itself with a scaled, flexible body and a sharp pointed tail that is the definitive sign of a land dweller. Aquatic snakes more commonly present themselves with a flattened end of the tail, evolving in order to better navigate themselves through water. It has been long debated whether snakes evolved from marine creatures or earth dwellers, and the argument seems to be slowly leaning toward one side.
The tiny limbs that the paleontologist was “blown away” by showed interesting characteristics. And they were not vestigial, useless little limbs either. While suggested that they were once longer and had a role in its movement, they later shrunk to the point where their purpose became more focused on smaller tasks.
The long, skinny fingers and toes were more likely used to grip onto their prey and hold them steady, or might’ve also been used during mating. Which meant that the snaked essentially “hugged” both its prey and their mate.
The significance of the discovery is huge. The “huggy snake”, which is catchier than Tetrapodophis, has filled the gap on an evolutionary scale, proving to be the missing link in between snakes and lizards.
Among other findings, this might have been the one to present itself as the cherry on top of the cake, and seal the matter of whether the scaled creatures evolved from land dwellers or aquatic creatures. So far, those supporting the theory of land dwellers have it.
Image source: nytimes.com