Scientists have discovered a four-legged snake fossil in Brazil. The fossil is 120-million years old and is about 20 cm long. The limbs each have 5 digits, which paleontologists feel were used to grab prey. At the time when this animal was alive, it would have been located on the continent of Gondwanna. This would be one the oldest snakes ever discovered; however, there is a bit of controversy surrounding this discovery. Some scientists aren't so sure that the fossil discovery is in fact part of the snake family.
There is even more controversy involved in the discovery of this fossil, named Tetrapodophis amplectus. The research team who published their findings in the journal Science this week are holding the fossil in Germany at the moment. The snake-like fossil was originally unearthed in Brazil. It has been illegal to export fossils from Brazil since 1942. Many people want to know how the fossil ended up in Germany.
Tetrapodophis amplectus has a skull about the size of a human fingernail. Previous ancient snake discoveries only had one set of hindlimbs. This is the first discovery that have two sets of limbs.
People who believe that this fossil is a part of the snake family point out that within the reptile family, only snakes have more than 150 spinal vertebrae; Tetrapodophis amplectus has 160. The fossil also has scales that span its entire belly. This "proto-snake" also has a cylindrical tail which suggests that snakes evolved from terrestrial burrowing animals, and not marine animals (marine origin would have required a flattened tail).
There is some evidence that suggests Tetrapodophis amplectus is not part of the snake family. The front surfaces of the spinal vertebrae of snakes and lizards (expect geckos) are concave, convex in the rear surface. Tetrapodophis amplectus does not demonstrate this pattern.
There will surely be a great deal of debating the origin of Tetrapodophis amplectus. One thing that everyone can agree on is that it is surely a spectacular find! Read more from the original paper in Science here.