SNAKES

Cosmos - - Trapped In Amber -

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.

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