Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?

Most Primitive Snake Fossil Discovered 77

smooth wombat writes "A newly discovered fossil seems to suggest that snakes evolved on land rather than in the water. The size of the fossil is unknown but it wasn't more than three feet long according to Hussam Zaher of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. It's the first time scientists have found a snake with a sacrum -- a bony feature supporting the pelvis -- he said. That feature was lost as snakes evolved from lizards, and since this is the only known snake that hasn't lost it, it must be the most primitive known, he said."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Most Primitive Snake Fossil Discovered

Comments Filter:
  • Snakes?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by winmine ( 934311 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:11PM (#15162219)
    Was a fossilized plane found nearby?
    • We got snakes on the motherfu*kin thread!
    • It was a fossilized NAZI PLANE, thus proving that the Third Reich had discovered time travel, but it was too late to change the course of the war. Of course, one S.L. Jackson killed all the nazis and their snakes and made it back to present day.

      That's my SOAP 2 script. Feel free to use it royalty free, so long as I get to see the movie.
    • No plane, but i believe there was a fossilized cete of proto-badgers found nearby.
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:17PM (#15162239) Journal
    I know there has to be a joke in here someplace. but politicians need not apply, since snakes are mostly backbone as it is.
  • Does "most primitive" = oldest?

    Cause if they found a snake older than 90 million years and it didn't have a sacrum... that'd just confuse the issue all over again.
    • Does "most primitive" = oldest?
      Want a coelacanth? Primitive but you can get one that was alive quite recently.
      • Coelacanth is a family name, not a species of fish (like "ape" rather than "homo sapien"). There are members of the family coelacanth around today, but they are not "primitive" members of the family: they are the modern members of it.
    • if they found a snake older than 90 million years and it didn't have a sacrum... that'd just confuse the issue all over again.

      How about finding a snake that's evolving a pelvis? If fish can do it, can't snakes?

      • Ironically enough, my pelvis appears to be evolving a snake. It is especially average in the presence of the rare but succulent Asian big breasted female.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by FroBugg ( 24957 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:48AM (#15162633) Homepage
      Yes and no.

      This snake, with the sacrum, had to come before modern snakes. But evolution isn't a process of an entire species becoming an entire new species.

      A group of these snakes could have been geographically isolated, during which time they evolved further, losing the sacrum. Meanwhile, others of this species were still happily breeding elsewhere.

      So it could be possible to find a sacrum-less fossil older (though probably not by much) than this one.
  • Snakes with hips would scare me, I can barely stand snakes with shoulders........... ;-)
  • by hackwrench ( 573697 ) <> on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:27PM (#15162290) Homepage Journal
    Having a feature makes you more primitive than not having a feature?
    Wow! The final proof that men are more primitive than women!
  • by gadlaw ( 562280 ) <> on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:40PM (#15162339) Homepage Journal
    All this is very good and important as we fill the evolutionary gaps. While it will never be enough to convince the 'god did it' crowd it does make the rest of us feel better seeing the evidence pile up. But my original thought when reading this story was wondering when scientists will be able to determine whether lawyers are more closely related to snakes or to slime molds. I'm crossing my fingers for slime molds. I like snakes.
  • by SeaDour ( 704727 )
    The snake was also found in the fossilized remains of a lush garden -- specifically, near an apple tree.
    • If I had mod points, I'd help reverse the idiot who marked you troll, but if wishes were fishes...
      One of things I find interesting is that, 99 people out of 100, they'd say it was an apple and would even remember the Bible saying it was an apple, but it's simply stated as "the fruit" and the word used might not even mean fruit as we know it. The earliest manuscripts actually show a mushroom. ^_^ Eat a mushroom for cosmic knowledge? Sounds plausible enough... It's one of those cases of Biblical fanon [] like t
  • Biblical serpent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by azmaveth ( 302274 ) on Wednesday April 19, 2006 @11:48PM (#15162374) Homepage
    Since I don't believe in karma anyway, I don't mind losing it for posting an unpopular view: Perhaps this discovery gives credence to the accuracy of the Bible.

    The serpent in the Biblical account of Genesis 3 was apparently a very different creature from modern day snakes. Besides the fact that the serpent spoke aloud (Genesis 3:1 - generally accepted to be Satan speaking through the serpent), it must have had some other means of locomotion besides crawling. The curse upon the serpent is recorded in Genesis 3:14 as such:
    And the Lord God said unto the serpent, "Because you have done this, you are cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon your belly shall you go, and dust shall you eat all the days of your life."

    "Eating dust" is generally accepted to mean that the serpent is cursed to have its face on the ground, not that its diet would actually consist of dirt.

    Go ahead, mod me down and flame me. :)

    • I should qualify "generally accepted" as meaning "generally accepted by Christians that hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible."
    • The creature, named Najash rionegrina, is "a fantastic animal," said Jack Conrad, a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and co-curator of an upcoming exhibit on lizards and snakes.
      The creature's name comes from a Hebrew word for snake and the Rio Negro province of Argentina, where the discovery took place.

      Oddly enough, we were discussing this article in class this evening (anthropology/hamartiology). Apparently there are rabbinical traditions that say the serpent in Gene

    • Re: Biblical serpent (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Thursday April 20, 2006 @01:46AM (#15162840)
      > Perhaps this discovery gives credence to the accuracy of the Bible.

      More likely the famous Genesis story incorporates a folk explanation for why some snakes have vestigal traces of walking apparatus.

      If you step back and look at it, most of Genesis consists of stories explaining why things are (and ought to be!) the way they are. It's a very common motif in mythologies and legendary histories from all over the world.

      The yarn about breeding sheep in front of striped staves to produce striped sheep, and the thrice-repeated "that's not my wife, that's ...uhm... my sister" meme (one guy fell for it twice!) should be all the hints you need that the book isn't a useful guide to biology or history.

    • Comparing the quoted date for the fossil and the often quoted date for Genesis, the snake in TFA would appear to have died and fossilised millions of years before Genesis, so obviously they are different snakes.

      I can only speculate that the Genesis snake is an ancestor of the snake with hips, this makes some sense, a talking snake would take millions of years to evolve, it would also tie in nicely with the slim evidence we have of a two legged Genesis snake.

      As an aside, it appears that the talking sna
  • "snakes evolved on land rather than in the water"

    I thought it was already well-known that snakes originated on land. Their gait leaves little to the imagination...
  • eh, so? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I've seen a real primitive one a whole bunch of times. It's only got one eye.
  • by Cyno01 ( 573917 )
    Who would have though that snakes would have evolved aquatically? Modern snakes have vestigal foot bones still, they evolved from legged animals.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Thursday April 20, 2006 @12:23AM (#15162549) Homepage Journal
    There are older sea-living snakes that had legs - by about 9 or so million years, according to TFA. From this, we have several options, including that snakes evolved in the seas, came up on land and then LATER lost their legs. (This is an option NOT suggested by either of the two leading theories, but would seem to fit the facts the best.)

    The second option - the current leading theory - is that snakes evolved in the sea, lost their legs there, and that the snake found on land was some kind of genetic throwback, a branch that had nothing to do with the main line of snakes. This theory assumes that this find is NOT more primitive than the older fossils, but that the older fossils are more primitive by virtue of being considerably older.

    It does raise a number of problems, though, in that although there were sea-based snakes that did have legs, there is no evidence whatsoever that snakes ever evolved in the seas. The only reason this was seriously considered, in recent times, was that a precursor had to exist with legs, and the only snake fossils with legs that were known were all from aquatic deposits.

    The next-best theory is that snakes evolved on land and migrated back into the sea at a time when they still had legs. Migrations back into the ocean have happened - the Manatee had a common land ancestor with a Giraffe, and Cetaceans are believed to have evolved from a land-based fox-like creature. Such "reverse" migrations, then, have occurred before - probably quite a lot.

    The problem here is that, as I mentioned, the aquatic fossils are almost ten million years older. That's a LOT of time to account for, as it would require land snakes to have existed equally as long, plus enough extra to have a common ancestor that had evolved far enough to be identifiably a snake, plus as much additional time as needed to have forked off an aquatic branch of the family.

    No land-based snake fossils with legs have been found for the timeframe required. This doesn't necessarily mean a whole lot - snakes don't fossilize that well, not many people hunt fossil snakes, the odds of a discoverer realizing what they had AND publishing that fact are low, and since the aquatic theory held supreme, not many people were looking for those fossils in locations that would have been land at the time.

    On the other hand, it is extremely poor science to draw conclusions from evidence that is merely assumed to exist of an event that may never have happened at all. It is very easy to prove some pet theory, if you only ever have to assume the evidence might exist to do so.

    It is wrong to say that this recent find has helped anyone understand the evolution of snakes. The strongest statement that can be made is that it helps to establish where to look and what to look for.

    • Could you please point me to, or directly quote from the bit in the article which states there are sea snake fossils nine million years older than Najash rionegrina. Multiple readings of the linked article and I just can not find it. Does kind of pull the rug out from under your next seven paragraphs.

      Nice article and discussion on this over at Pharyngula [].

      Been a good couple of weeks for well publicized transitionals.

  • So I take it, it was so primitive, that it didn't even have arms or legs?
    • More like it was so primitive that it had legs. Remember, God punished snakes for what they did in the garden of Eden and told them to crawl on their bellies.
  • The fossil was evidently found near the ancient remains of two mushrooms and several badgers. []
  • I seem to remember reading somewhere about a lizard with no legs. NOt technically a snake, because it has too much of the structure needed for legs. Wouldn't said lizard be even more primitive (it has shoulders)? Or are snakes descended from other, non-lizardly folk? Anyone else ever heard of this?

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington