Daily Management Review

Controversy Over Claimed Discovery of Oldest Snake With Four Legs


Controversy Over Claimed Discovery of Oldest Snake With Four Legs
The accidental discovery of a fossil of what looks like a snake with four legs has created ripples among historians and scientists.

Named Tetrapodophis amplectus, which in Greek means a “four-footed serpent”, the fossil is believed to have come from Brazil. If the claims of the scientists, who put up the supposed discovery on the on-line version of the Science Magazine, are true then it would be one of the earliest snakes to have ever been found. The scientists claiming authenticity of the discovery claims that that the snake group found in the fossil evolved from terrestrial precursors in Gondwana, the southern remnant of the super continent Pangaea.

There have been instances were fossils of creatures considered to be protosnakes have been found but with one set of limbs, usually hind limbs. This makes this discovery more interesting and controversial at the same time.

The fossil is estimated to be 120 million years or more old. The creature in the fossil has is 20-centimetre-long and its impressions are remarkably well preserved.  The creature’s limbs are also very well preserved and clearly identifiable and end with five slender digits that appear to have been functional.

David Martill of the University of Portsmouth was the one who spotted the fossil that had resided in a private collection for several decades. The scientist found the fossil during a field trip with students to Museum Solnhofen in Germany. The specimen is encased in lime stone and that has made researchers and scientists believe that certain characteristics of the limestone and the distinct orange-brown color of the bones themselves are very definitive indications of the fossil to have originally come from the particular area of North Eastern Brazil.

Scientists attached to the finding say that the sediment that became those rocks accumulated in calm waters on the floor of a lake or a lagoon sometime between 113 million and 126 million years ago.
The creature in the fossil indicates that the snakes evolved from terrestrial creatures and not from marine creatures as is proposed by some scientists. The researchers attached to the discovery point out the creature’s teeth are pointy and slightly curved and the fossil includes some scales that stretch across the full width of the belly, characteristics that can only be found on snakes. These are some of the proof that the team of scientists claims that the creature can be regarded as a snake-with four limbs.

A section of scientists who are not attached with the discovery are excited. One of them, Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, a vertebrate paleontologist at Yale University said:  “this is the single most extraordinary fossil that I’ve ever seen. No other reptile has the combination of features that this creature has”.

Other scientists however differ in their opinion about the discovery. Michael Caldwell, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, in Canada, claimed that some aspects of the creature’s spinal vertebrae did not match that of other snakes and lizards like the front surfaces of the vertebrae, which in known snakes and lizards except geckoes, are concave. The rear surfaces are convex and the fossilized creature does not seem to have the properties.

(source: www.sciencemag.org)

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