Scientists have found a 99 million-year-old snail in amber
Of all the prehistoric creatures to find trapped in amber, we never would have expected a snail.
But that’s exactly what paleontologists have found - so perfectly preserved that its delicate shell is intact, and prehistoric soft snail tissues have been observed for the first time.
Encased in 99 million-year-old amber from Myanmar, the snails hail from the Cretaceous, when some of the world’s most beloved dinosaurs, such as T. rex, velociraptor and triceratops trod the Earth.
Their morphology suggests that they are ancestors of the Cyclophoridae family of terrestrial snails. This makes them not just the oldest snails ever found in amber - it would also put them among the oldest cyclophoroideans found in Asia.
Snails, as you probably know, are extraordinarily fragile. Their bodies are soft and squishy, and their exoskeletons - also known as their shells - are brittle.
“Ancient tree resin has exceptional preservation potential, capturing the finest of details of fossil organisms millions of years old in perfect 3-D space - so much so that they appear as though they just became trapped in the resin yesterday,” palaeontologist Jeffrey Stilwell of Monash University in Australia told John Pickrell at National Geographic.
Because the snail is so young, it’s difficult to positively identify, although it has several morphological features that are comparable to those seen on both fossil and living Cyclophoridae species, such as an operculum, a sort of “lid” the snail uses to seal its shell.
What’s perhaps even more interesting is that the snail was likely alive when it was encased in the amber, its body stretched and distorted, with an air bubble around its head.