How snakes lost their legs, a fossil’s story and scientists from all over the world working together to understand it. That’s how, recently, a team actually found evidence explaining how snakes might have lost their limbs such a long time ago and are now slithering about in a charming or creepy manner (depending on where you stand when it comes to snakes).
But it seems that recently scientists may have gotten a clue in helping them figure out how exactly that happened: how and when and why snakes became limbless. Because not only have snakes managed to adapt their bodies to a movement that requires no limbs whatsoever, they’ve also managed to adapt to both an aquatic and a terrestrial environment.
The interesting new clue that they now have at their disposal is a very unique fossil of a snake’s head which dates back 90 million years and which has now been carefully and meticulously analyzed by researchers from the University of Edinburgh.
The fossilized snake skull was found to have some very interesting features which could help shed some light on its modern relatives. Researchers have previously thought that the reptile did have limbs but that it lost them in order to adapt to an aquatic environment in which it could function better as a predator. But the more recent findings show that this assumption might not have been entirely true.
It would appear that the snakes did lose their limbs in order to integrate into a different environment, just not into the one we had assumed they did. When studying the fossil, the team of researchers, headed by Doctor Hongyu Yi, performed CT scans on the reptile bones. And although, sadly, many of the bones found were quite damaged, the team did manage to spot an inner ear formation still intact. By using modern techniques, scanning the ear formation and using 3D imaging, they were able to reconstruct the entire skull digitally.
It had belonged to a Dinilysia patagonica snake and, according to the scans and the shape of the inner ear formations it seems that the snake was a burrower. The snake’s inner ears are used as vital tools for balance and movement but in the case of this fossil, they also served another purpose. They were an early warning system meant to help the snake fend off its predators. This inner ear formation was the missing link in the evolution of the reptiles.