Baby snake from the time of the dinosaurs found 'frozen' in amber

Science								Image Source Ye Liu

The skull is missing from the snake but the team were able to analyse 97 vertebrae plus attached ribs and they concluded that the backbone of snakes have changed very little over the course of almost 100 million years. But wait, there's more...

The amber was found by workers in Myanmar quarries near the Chinese border. Together the two specimens open a new chapter in the study of snake evolution and ontogeny - the study of how an individual organism develops from birth to maturity.

A second amber fossil was discovered, which appears to contain part of the shed skin of another much larger snake. The degree of preservation allowed the team to model the pigmentation pattern of the snake in life. According to the researchers, it was luck this one was actually caught in amber.

A baby snake has been discovered encased in a piece of Burmese amber that dates back to around 100 million years ago, unveiling a new species, a group of scientists from China, Australia, US, and Canada announced on Wednesday. Based on the numerous anatomical features that are intact, including vertebrae and some soft tissue, the team describes it as either embryonic or newborn, and comparable in size to a modern southeast Asian pipe snake (Cylindrophis ruffus) of the same age.

And when amber preserves larger creatures with backbones, the results can be quite astonishing, such as the fossils of a tiny chick with "unusual plumage", mummified bird wings, a lizard with its tongue sticking out and a chunk of feathered dinosaur tail. "Not only do we have the first baby snake, we also have the first definitive evidence of a fossil snake living in a forest".

The snake's body can be seen inside the chunk of amber, made up of 97 vertebrae plus attached ribs.

Scientists say the snake may have survived for tens of millions of years in a primitive state, before going extinct. "When it caught the baby snake, it caught the forest floor with the bugs, plants and bug poop - so that it is clear the snake was living in a forest".

The amber fragment in which the specimen was found also provided important clues about its environment.

Other organic debris trapped in the amber alongside the baby snake proved to be less exciting than the skeleton and skin, but it still offered valuable details about the ancient snake's habitat, Caldwell said in the email. It appears the animals were more widely spread than previously thought, though the researchers caution more specimens are needed before they can determine routes of slithery migration across the Southern Hemisphere supercontinent of Gondwana.

The creature has been frozen in time for 99 million years.

The findings were published online today (July 18) in the journal Science Advances. Gobs of tree resin foreshadow their fate.

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