Researchers find odd four-legged snake fossil, ancestor of modern snakes

24 Jul 2015

A close-up of the feet of the snake fossil. Image via Dave Martill, University of Portsmouth

It might seem somewhat comical to think about, but a four-legged snake once roamed these fine lands but over millions of years evolved in a way that saw it ditch its little feet to become more streamlined.

The discovery of the four-legged snake was via a fossil hunt in Brazil’s Crato Formation, which opens up more questions about the evolution of the snake we know today.

However, based off these findings, the researchers who discovered the fossil suggest that this might show that the scale species are actually descended from burrowing animals, rather than marine life like many other species.

Dubbed Tetrapodophis amplectus, this newly-discovered extinct species is believed to have lived during the Cretaceous period between 100m and 146m years ago and features all the familiar characteristics of a modern snake.

four legged snake drawing

Illustration of the four-legged snake via Julius T. Cstonyi

Among its familiar features are its elongated body, scales, fanged teeth and the famous jaw that is flexible enough to devour prey as well as being able to constrict it with its body.

The glaring difference, however, is its four stubby limbs that, sadly for comic effect, did not mean the snake walked on four legs.

Rather, it’s believed the four limbs were used to hold on to prey or for a clasping mechanism during mating.

This find poses serious evolutionary questions about the evolution of snakes because it lacks the elongated tail most associated with animals that descended from marine life.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic