Fossil Friday – Snake Vertebra

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In the opinion of this naturalist, snakes are among the most elegant animals ever to have evolved. The fossil record of extinct snakes was poorly known for a long time. However, recent discoveries have revealed that a diverse array of early snakes lived alongside the dinosaurs, as far back in time as the Middle Jurassic Epoch, over 165 million years ago. The earliest known snake is Eophis underwoodi, from the Middle Jurassic of England: http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms6996

Today’s Fossil Friday subject is a fossil snake in the Western Science Center’s collection. This is a vertebra of Coniophis precedens, a snake that lived during the Late Cretaceous Epoch, about 67 million years ago, alongside much bigger reptiles such as Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. This specimen was collected by the late Harley Garbani in the Hell Creek Formation of Montana, and donated to the museum by his wife, Mary.

These early snakes were not venomous, but instead killed their prey by constriction like living pythons and boas. Another Late Cretaceous snake, Sanajeh indicus from India, seems to have habitually preyed upon hatchling long-necked sauropod dinosaurs. Three skeletons of this snake have been discovered associated with fossils of sauropod nests, eggs, and hatchlings: http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1000322

Post by Curator Dr. Andrew McDonald

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