Research Identifies Primitive Reptile; Rare Fossils Show Link between Snakes, Lizards

By Shelton, Jim | New Haven Register (New Haven, CT), July 26, 2012 | Go to article overview

Research Identifies Primitive Reptile; Rare Fossils Show Link between Snakes, Lizards


Shelton, Jim, New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)


File this one under "missing slink."

A Yale University researcher says he's identified the world's most primitive snake -- an ancestral link between lizards and snakes that slithers like a snake but isn't able to unhinge its jaws.

"It has a little give in the middle of the lower jaw, but it doesn't have all the other hinges that snakes have," said Nicholas Longrich, a postgraduate fellow in Yale's department of geology and geophysics. "We argue that it was the feeding system that really allowed snakes to take off."

The "protosnake" is Coniophis precedens, a creature that lived 60 to 65 million years ago. Famed Yale paleontologist O.C. Marsh named the snake more than a century ago, but until now its only known fossil record consisted of a single vertebra.

"Before this, we didn't know what the rest of the snake looked like," Longrich said.

Longrich, reached by phone on a trip to Alaska, said he stumbled upon additional Coniophis precedens bones while examining other fossils at a museum in Berkeley, Calif. He was working on a project regarding lizard extinction at the time.

The snake specimens he found had been collected many years earlier, but hadn't been studied. …

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