Phillip Bell – Standard Snake Evolution Story Stymied by Spate of Fossil Discoveries

Until early 2015, the ‘earliest’ date reported for a fossil snake was less than 100 Ma old. In January, a team led by University of Alberta (Canada) paleontologist Professor Michael Caldwell described fossils of four new species, in Nature Communications, which they claimed extended the snake fossil record backwards by about 70 Ma to the Middle Jurassic.

‘Earliest’ snake fossils

The new species reported were:

– Parviraptor estesi (from Dorset, England)—145–140 Ma
– Diablophis gilmorei (from Colorado, USA)—155 Ma
– Portugalophis lignites (from Guimarota, Portugal)—157–152 Ma
– Eophis underwoodi (from Oxfordshire, England)—167 Ma.

The skull anatomy of all four of these ‘ancient’ snakes, they say, is similar to that of both modern snakes and other fossil snakes. Of course, this is unexpected. However, the skull structure of previously reported fossil snakes, Pachyrhachis problematicus and Haasiophis terrasanctus, also surprised evolutionary researchers, resembling that of modern boas and pythons (deemed ‘advanced’).

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