Snakes crawled among Jurassic dinosaurs, new timeline says | Science News

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Snakes crawled among Jurassic dinosaurs, new timeline says

Fossils indicate flexible skulls, not legless bodies, make snakes snakes

11:00am, January 27, 2015
Snake illustration

ANCIENT SNAKE  The earliest known snakes, like this one swimming in a lake in this illustration, lived during the Jurassic Period, a new study suggests.

Just call it the Jura-sssss-ic Period. Newly identified fossils suggest that snakes slithered through much of the golden age of the dinosaurs, a finding that pushes back the fossil record for snakes by 70 million years.

Ancient skulls with features similar to modern snakes tipped paleontologists off to the new timeline, they report January 27 in Nature Communications.

The fossils also indicate that snakes evolved their flexible skulls before they stretched out and lost their legs, the authors say.

“One of the major ideas about the evolution of snakes is that the long body evolved first because it allows constriction, an ancient predation strategy. The highly mobile skull came later,” says Krister Smith, a paleontologist at the Senckenberg museum in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. “The authors challenge this and present a new head-first hypothesis.”

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