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US News Beautifully Preserved Skull of 'Biblical Snake' with Hind Legs Discovered

08:50  21 november  2019
08:50  21 november  2019 Source:   livescience.com

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This time, it is the beautifully preserved skull of an ancient snake with rear limbs, Najash rionegrina. Our study of this fossil has been published in the journal Najash rionegrina is named after the legged biblical snake Nahash (Hebrew for snake ), and the Río Negro Province in Argentina, where the

The skull of a snake nearly 100 million years old that belonged to the extinct group Najash, which retained hind legs .Credit Fernando Garberoglio. Snakes , with their sleek bodies and kaleidoscopic diversity, have long entranced humans. But we know very little about the evolutionary past of these

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On very rare occasions, an exceptional fossil is unearthed that provides an extraordinary glimpse into the evolution of a group of organisms.

This time, it is the beautifully preserved skull of an ancient snake with rear limbs, Najash rionegrina. Our study of this fossil has been published in the journal Science Advances.

This and other new fossils help answer long-standing questions on the origins of snakes, such as how they lost their limbs and evolved their highly specialized skulls.

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“Najash has the most complete, three-dimensionally preserved skull of any ancient snake , and this is providing an amazing amount of new information “These primitive snakes with little legs weren’t just a transient evolutionary stage on the way to something better. Rather, they had a highly successful

Snake origins, Tetrapodophis amplectus and the evolutionary condundrums. The skull anatomy of all four of these ‘ancient’ snakes , they say, is similar to that of both modern snakes and The creature possessed 160 spinal and 112 tail vertebrae and beautifully preserved hind limbs and forelimbs.

Fossil history

a stuffed animal on a beach: Life restoration of Najash rionegrina through the dunes of the landscape of the Kokorkom desert that extended across Río Negro (Northern Patagonia), Argentina during the Late Cretaceous (100 million years ago). © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. Life restoration of Najash rionegrina through the dunes of the landscape of the Kokorkom desert that extended across Río Negro (Northern Patagonia), Argentina during the Late Cretaceous (100 million years ago). Najash rionegrina is named after the legged biblical snake Nahash (Hebrew for snake), and the Río Negro Province in Argentina, where the fossils were discovered. Fossils of Najash are about 95 million years old, and were first described in Nature from a fragmentary skull and partial body skeleton that preserved robust rear limbs.

This rear-limbed fossil snake garnered a great deal of media interest as it followed earlier reports of fossil marine snakes with rear limbs. What made Najash unique was that it was a terrestrial snake living in a desert, not an aquatic snake living in the ocean. In addition, the fossils were not compressed flat by the weight of overlying sediments, and so they were preserved in three dimensions, unlike the fossil marine snakes.

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Here, we shed light on the acquisition of the snake body plan using micro–computed tomography scans of the first three-dimensionally preserved skulls of the legged snake Najash and a , The anatomy and relationships of Haasiophis terrasanctus, a fossil snake with well-developed hind limbs from the

Here, we shed light on the acquisition of the snake body plan using micro–computed tomography scans of the first three-dimensionally preserved skulls of the legged snake Najash and a , The anatomy and relationships of Haasiophis terrasanctus, a fossil snake with well-developed hind limbs from the

Unfortunately, that first description of Najash relied on a very fragmentary skull. Scholars of snake evolution were left to guess at what the head of these ancient animals might have looked like.

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We know from their shared anatomy that snakes evolved from lizards. We also know that the skulls of snakes have been key to their successful and highly specialized feeding adaptations. New Najash fossil skulls would be highly informative on the pattern of snake skull evolution.

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Image caption The snake 's legs were just a few millimetres long. Several other fossil snakes have been found with hind limbs, but the new find is estimated to be a direct ancestor of modern snakes . But Dr Longrich was surprised to discover that they were far from being "vestigial" evolutionary

The new discovery

a group of people sitting on a rock: The scientists in the process of removing sediment in order to extract fossils contained in the rock at La Buitrera. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. The scientists in the process of removing sediment in order to extract fossils contained in the rock at La Buitrera.

It was a hot day in February of 2013 when Fernando Garberoglio, then an undergraduate palaeontology student from the Universidad de Buenos Aires, went on his first field trip to the La Buitrera Paleontological Area in northern Patagonia, Argentina. With him were two palaeontologists: Sebastián Apesteguía, from the Universidad Maimónides, and Guillermo Rougier, from the University of Louisville.

Looking for fossil vertebrates is an act of patient, painstaking discovery. It requires you to be close to the ground, scanning the grit, pebbles, rocks and sediments for a sign of bone. You must pick up each piece, inspect it closely, put it down and then repeat, hour after hour. At La Buitrera, you are scorched by the hot sun, pelted by driving rain and frozen by chilly Andean winds.

But it's all worth it. Particularly when, as happened to Garberoglio, he finally picked up a pebble, only a few centimetres long, to find a small, ancient, bony face staring back at him.

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Snakes and whales do not have hind limbs. They do have certain bones in the hinder part of their bodies, but they do not use them Take snakes , for example. The thing to note is that nothing about these spurs prove that snakes ever had hind legs . The spurs are not anchored to the spine as legs

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Venomous Copperhead Snake ( Agkistrodon contortrix) Venomous Copperhead Snake ( Agkistrodon contortrix)

"I found a snake skull!"

Rougier asked to inspect the fossil himself and found that, to his surprise, Garberoglio was right — there it was, an almost complete, 95 million year old, 3D preserved snake skull.

It has been 13 years since Najash was named, and seven years since Fernando's discovery. Today, the long hunt has produced its reward of a treasure trove of new skulls and skeletons of Najash from the fossil rich sites at La Buitrera.

Skull evolution

a piece of cake on a plate: The new fossil skull of Najash from Argentina. © Provided by Future Publishing Ltd. The new fossil skull of Najash from Argentina.

A long-standing hypothesis is that snakes evolved from a blind, burrowing lizard ancestor. A group of small, worm-like, small-mouthed burrowing snakes, known as scolecophidians have long been considered to be the most primitive living snakes.

The new Najash fossil material shows that the skulls of that lineage of ancient snakes were nothing like those of scolecophidian snakes. Instead, Najash and its kind had large mouths with sharp teeth and some of the mobile skull joints that are typical of most modern snakes. However, they still retained some bony skull features of more typical lizards.

In evolutionary terms, Najash tells us that snakes were evolving towards the skull mobility necessary to ingest fairly large prey items, a landmark feature of many modern snakes.

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Four- legged snake . The hind legs are clearly visible, especially in the image below. The skull and spine don’t seem right for a snake ancestor, he says. And Caldwell should know, his research includes the evolutionary history of snakes and lizards.

The four- legged snake is an important find for evolution. The unearthing of the first known fossil of a four- legged snake dating back 110 million years could Dr Martill discovered the fossil as part of a routine field trip with students to Museum Solnhofen, Germany, which has a prestigious fossil collection.

Scientific prediction

viper viper

Critical information is also preserved in the bone-by-bone details preserved in these new fossils of Najash. For example, for a very long time, the rod-like bone located behind the eye of modern snakes — called the jugal — was thought to be the equivalent of the postorbital bone of their lizard ancestors. The idea followed that the jugal was absent in all snakes, fossil and modern.

The new skull of Najash demonstrates conclusively that this is not correct. The bone below the orbit in Najash has the same shape, position and connections as the L-shaped jugal of more typical lizards. This demonstrates that the lower bar of the jugal was lost through snake evolution, leaving behind a rod-like jugal in modern snakes. It is the postorbital bone that has been lost, not the jugal.

These new specimens of Najash are an excellent example of the predictive power of science. Hypotheses such as the presence of a jugal in snakes can be supported by the discovery of new data that fulfil those predictions. What happens as a result is that an old hypothesis is falsified and a new one is verified.

In short, the skull of Najash tells us that ancestral snakes were very similar to some of their close lizard relatives, such as big-bodied, big-headed lizards like Komodo dragons. This is a far cry indeed from the idea that snakes could have evolved from tiny, blind, worm-like, small-mouthed ancestors; no known fossils of ancient snakes resemble at all the supposedly primitive, small-mouthed scolecophidians.


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