We weren’t going to mention this until we had a good creationist reaction to it, but that may never come, and it’s something we ought to discuss anyway. The news is at the Nature website: Four-legged fossil snake is a world first. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:
The first four-legged fossil snake ever found is forcing scientists to rethink how snakes evolved from lizards. Although it has four legs, Tetrapodophis amplectus has other features that clearly mark it as a snake, says Nick Longrich, a palaeontologist at the University of Bath, UK, and one of the authors of a paper describing the animal in Science.
This is the paper they’re talking about: A four-legged snake from the Early Cretaceous of Gondwana. The abstract is all you can see without a subscription, so we’ll stay with the article in Nature:
The creature’s limbs were probably not used for locomotion, the researchers say, but rather for grasping prey, or perhaps for holding on to mating partners. Such speculation inspired the snake’s name, which loosely translates as ‘four-legged hugging snake’.
Awwwww — that’s cute. Let’s read on:
Tetrapodophis was originally found in the fossil-rich Crato Formation in northeastern Brazil several decades ago. But its legs can be difficult to see at first glance, and it languished in a private collection after its discovery, assumed to be unremarkable.
That was a well-written sentence. We continue:
“I was confident it might be a snake,” says David Martill, a palaeobiologist at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who came across the find in 2012. “It was only after getting the specimen under the microscope and looking at it in detail that my confidence grew. We had gone to see Archaeopteryx, the missing link between birds and dinosaurs, and discovered Tetrapodophis, the missing link between snakes and lizards.”
As Louis Pasteur once said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” That’s why creationists will never stumble into anything of scientific value. Here’s more:
Scientists have long argued over whether snakes evolved from land or marine animals. Tetrapodophis lacks adaptations for marine life, such as a tail useful for swimming. But its skull and body proportions are consistent with adaptations for burrowing. Longrich says that the finding unequivocally shows that snakes originated in the Southern Hemisphere and strongly supports a terrestrial origin.
This is an outrage! Every creationist knows the snake lost its legs after tempting Eve in the Garden. Moving along:
The discovery comes in a major year for snake evolution research, [Martin Cohn, an evolutionary developmental biologist at the University of Florida, Gainesville] says. In January, the snake fossil record was pushed back by some 70 million years to the Middle Jurassic, around 160 million years ago, with the report of the oldest snake ever found. Although Tetrapodophis is not the oldest snake, Cohn says, “from a developmental perspective, this could be one of the most important fossils ever found. The combination of a snake-like body with complete forelimbs and hindlimbs is like a snake version of Archaeopteryx.”
As you know, Archaeopteryx is the transitional link between non-avian feathered dinosaurs and modern birds. By the way, although it’s a favorite tactic of creationists, Archaeopteryx shouldn’t be confused with Archaeoraptor, a Chinese fake that somehow found its way into National Geographic.
We don’t know how this new discovery fits in with Eupodophis, a legged snake fossil we wrote about more than four years ago in Another Transitional Fossil — Lizard to Snake. We’ll let the snake specialists work it out. Meanwhile, we’re eager to see what the creationist reaction will be.
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