Scientists have discovered the first-ever fossilised snake embryo, preserved in a pebble-sized chunk of amber from 105 million years ago.
Dating back to the Mesozoic period of the Cretaceous era, the fossil in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, provides revelatory new information about how modern snakes evolved.
Paleontologists from the University of Alberta have established that the snake species is linked to other ancient snakes from Argentina, Africa, India and Australia.
Professor Michael Caldwell of Albert’s department of biological sciences said: “It is an important – and until now, missing – component of understanding snake evolution from southern continents, that is Gondwana, in the mid-Mesozoic.”
Alongside his international team in Australia, China and the US, Professor Caldwell has tracked the migration of these Gondwanan snakes, from the megacontinent Gondwana.
Their analysis of the amber fragment which preserved the fossil has given them important clues about the environment of the time.
“It is clear that this little snake was living in a forested environment with numerous insects and plants, as these are preserved in the clast,” explained Professor Caldwell.
“Not only do we have the first baby snake, we also have the first definitive evidence of a fossil snake living in a forest.”
Using CT scans, the scientific team studied the amber fossil and compared it with modern snakes’ embryos.
What they found helped “refine our understanding of early snake evolution, as 100-million-year-old snakes are known from only 20 or so relatively complete fossil snake species,” said Prof Caldwell.
“There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilised baby snake.”
The paper, called A Mid-Cretaceous Embryonic-to-Neonate Snake in Amber From Myanmar, was published in the journal Science Advances.