New Fossil Shows Snakes Used to Have Huge Heads and Legs

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A fascinating new fossil discovery in Patagonia, Argentina is making the news because of how much it captures a long postulated but never proven theory that snakes had legs. It turns out that they also had giant heads.

The team was led by Fernando Garberoglio the University of Buenos Aires, with two other palaeontologists: Sebastián Apesteguía, from the Universidad Maimónides, and Guillermo Rougier, from the University of Louisville. They traveled to the Buitrera Paleontological Area in northern Patagonia, Argentina where Garberoglio made the discovery of a primitive snake skull.

Najash is an extinct genus of snake from the Late Cretaceous period which was 90 million years ago, about the same time as the Quetzalcoatlus we covered previously. What makes Najash interesting is that it had rear legs (the front legs had already been lost during evolution) and a pelvis. The legs were very well developed and used by the snakes to get around, initially. This lends evidence to the theory that snakes evolved from lizards.

Skull of Najash found in Patagonia. – Image credit Fernando Garberoglio

Previously, scientists thought that snakes had evolved from a different type of lizard, known as a scolecophidian, which has a small mouth. Najash had a much larger mouth and the joints connecting the vertebrae to the head are structured in an intermediary way between lizards and snakes. Snakes evolved very flexible skull mobility to swallow larger prey.

Najash is also related to another genus known as Dinilysia. Dinilysia had a very similar skull, as seen below:

Skull diagram of Dinilysia.

Dinilysia, however, did not have legs and had a somewhat smaller head. So far, Najash is the only snake to have been found with those features. We look forward to future finds of ancient snakes.

Source: Smithsonian

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