When the Myanmar amber was forming as tree sap 99 million years ago, the area was a tropical forest teeming with an abundant and diverse fauna. This is the perfect environment for snakes, so it was only a matter of time before one was found inside a piece of the sap. And that happy discovery occurred in the middle of 2018, when not one, but two specimens were revealed to the world.
One of these, pictured here, was assigned to a new species, called Xiaophis myanmarensis. The second is too incomplete to confidently determine if it also belongs to the same genus, or if it is something different.
Both are only babies, and may be among the first to have lived in a forest. Being such young individuals reveals key insights as to how ancient snakes grew from hatchlings to adults.
It appears that Xiaophis had around 97 vertebrae, and is similar in size to hatchlings of several living snakes such as the Asian Pipe Snake ( Cylindrophis ruffus). The similarity is so striking that it suggests very little has changed in the way that snakes have grown for over 99 million years.
The similarities in bone structures between Xiaophis and snakes from the ancient super- continent Gondwana indicates that this group originated in the southern hemisphere and dispersed into the northern super- continent of Laurasia. Once there, they stayed in a rather primitive form for tens of millions of years.
This fossil snake, Xiaophis myanmarensis, was trapped in amber in what is now Myanmar, 99 million years ago.