Menu

Four-legged Snake Fossil Found

Researchers discover an unprecedented paleontological relic that may just rewrite the book on snake evolution.

Jul 27, 2015
Bob Grant

Is Tetrapodophis amplectus the missing link between lizards and snakes?IMAGE - DAVE MARTILL, UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTHJust as the fossil Archaeopteryx is widely considered to be an evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, scientists now have the missing link between lizards and snakes, according to researchers who discovered a remarkable fossil in a German museum. The fossilized new species, Tetrapodophis amplectus, has four prehensile limbs but other characteristics that are distinctly snake-like, such as an elaborately elongated body and large ventral scales.             

“From a developmental perspective, this could be one of the most important fossils ever found,” evolutionary biologist Martin Cohn of the University of Florida, Gainesville, told Nature. “The combination of a snake-like body with complete forelimbs and hindlimbs is like a snake version of Archaeopteryx,” Cohn, who was not involved with the research, added.

The fossilized Tetrapodophis, whose name loosely translates as four-legged hugging snake, was unearthed in Brazil decades ago from a fossil-rich, Cretaceous deposit. It sat in the collections at the Bürgermeister Müller Museum in Solnhofen, Germany, until paleobiologist David Martill from the University of Portsmouth in the U.K. noticed that the snake fossil had four legs while he was leading a student group through the museum. “And then my jaw just dropped,” he told the National Geographic blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. “I thought: bloody hell! And I looked closer and the little label said: Unknown fossil. Understatement! No snake has ever been found with four legs. This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”

Martill and his coauthors described the unique fossil in a Science paper published last week (July 24). They suggested that Tetrapodophis likely used its legs for grasping prey or mates rather than for locomotion, and that the new species probably originated from burrowing lizards. “Tetrapodophis doesn’t show any aquatic adaptations—no long, oar-like tail, no thick bones to act as ballast, no flippers,” study coauthor Nick Longrich of the University of Bath, U.K., told New Scientist. “But it does show some pretty classic burrowing features, like low spines on the vertebrae, and a short tail and a long trunk.”

Some researchers are not convinced that the fossil represents a transitional snake species. “I honestly do not think the fossil represents the remains of a snake,” Michael Caldwell, a palaeontologist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, who was not involved with the research, told New Scientist.

“It completely lacks key features of the vertebral column that would make it a squamate [scaled reptile] and more specifically a snake.” While some of features of Tetrapodophis’s teeth are distinctly snake-like, Caldwell added, “if the rest of the animal is not a squamate, then teeth do not make you a snake.”

February 2019

Big Storms Brewing

Can forests weather more major hurricanes?

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Releases First FDA-Cleared Digital PCR System and Test for Monitoring Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Response
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb), a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostic products, today announced that its QXDx AutoDG ddPCR System, which uses Bio-Rad’s Droplet Digital PCR technology, and the QXDx BCR-ABL %IS Kit are the industry’s first digital PCR products to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Used together, Bio-Rad’s system and kit can precisely and reproducibly monitor molecular response to treatment in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML).
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Showcases New Automation Features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer at SLAS 2019
Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb) today showcases new automation features of its ZE5 Cell Analyzer during the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening 2019 International Conference and Exhibition (SLAS) in Washington, D.C., February 2–6. These capabilities enable the ZE5 to be used for high-throughput flow cytometry in biomarker discovery and phenotypic screening.
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Andrew Alliance and Sartorius Collaborate to Provide Software-Connected Pipettes for Life Science Research
Researchers to benefit from an innovative software-connected pipetting system, bringing improved reproducibility and traceability of experiments to life-science laboratories.
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Life Sciences to Feature 3D Cell Culture Technologies at SLAS 2019
Corning Incorporated (NYSE: GLW) will showcase advanced 3D cell culture technologies and workflow solutions for spheroids, organoids, tissue models, and applications including ADME/toxicology at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) conference, Feb. 2-6 in Washington, D.C.