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Museum fossil links snakes to lizards

Four-legged specimen suggests serpents evolved first on land

2:00pm, July 23, 2015

MISSING LINK  A fossil of a four-legged snake (shown in this illustration) offers evidence that snakes evolved from lizards.

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The worldwide hunt for a fossil link between snakes and lizards has succeeded — in a museum.

The fossil, of a four-legged snake, hints that the ancestors of modern-day snakes may have evolved on land rather than at sea, researchers report in the July 24 Science. It’s the first four-legged snake fossil ever discovered, bridging the gap between snakes and lizards, says paleontologist Michael Lee of the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide.

“It’s a tremendously important fossil, because it’s the classic missing link,” he says. “It’s got a snakelike body but four little lizardlike legs.”

Not everyone is convinced.

“Finding the first example of a four-legged snake would be very exciting,” says Michael Caldwell, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta in Canada. “But I just don’t think this is a snake.”

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