Origin of the snakes: The oldest snake was not at all

A look at the rock from which the fossil was cut provides clues as to the cause of the misinterpretation, reports Caldwell. The breaking up had that Tetrapodophis– Copy divided, but in addition a layer of organic vegetation has covered part of the body, which is only 2 centimeters long. The initial determinations then only precisely analyzed parts of the skull and the skeleton, such as the extremity stumps, but overlooked the anatomical details that were hidden under the vegetation.

© Michael Caldwell, University of Alberta (Ausschnitt)

The two halves of the Tetrapodophis fossil | The fossil of Tetrapodophis was split into two parts during preparation. The counterpart of one half was partially covered by vegetation, and so researchers overlooked anatomical and morphological details during the first analysis and did not analyze them. If one catches up on this, other conclusions about the systematic position of the animal emerge.

Caldwell’s team has now made up for it and found other telltale features on the skull. These rule out that Tetrapodophis was a primitive snake: the animal clearly belongs to the dolichosaurids, i.e. to a different, albeit related, group of reptiles. Although the animal is not a snake, it is still exciting, the authors of the study write: It is one of the oldest representatives of the dolichosaurid lizards that have been found in the sea to date. It is also one of the smallest scale reptile fossils ever found. Scale reptiles of this small size living today often also have reduced extremities, without being very closely related to snakes.

To that Tetrapodophis– There have already been legal disputes – for example, it had to be clarified in court whether the fossil had been illegally exported from the country where it was found in Brazil. Perhaps for this reason it is still difficult for experts with a research interest to get hold of the find and investigate it, laments Caldwell. This could have contributed to the fact that the interpretation of the find remained problematic.


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