In 2015, a team of paleontologists described a strange fossil excavated from the Crato Formation, an area in Brazil where the remains of prehistoric animals abound. But this was very unusual: he was as tall as a serpent and had four legs. Therefore, he got the title of the missing link of the mentioned genres.
as InvestigationAnd Tetrapodovis It would have been a primitive earth serpent measuring 15 centimeters long. Including its long tail. Around their limbs—with five digits each—the authors suggested they were used to dig and catch large prey and support their mates during mating.
Why does the finding of this strange fossil seem to have ended a long debate in science?
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Scientists have long searched the fossil record for lost species linking the first lizards and snakes. According to their theories, finding such a fossil would culminate in the debate about how snakes with elongated bodies and without limbs evolved 120 million years ago.
In this regard, there are two theories. The first indicates that lizards lost their limbs in the ground after they began digging and adapting to life underground. Thus, it is believed that their front legs disappeared first and then the back.
On the other hand, the second hypothesis holds that they arose from aquatic lizards and that their features were stretched to be able to swim like snakes. In both environments, this animal was able to develop a long and smooth body.
Since its discovery, Tetrapodophis amplectus has for a time held the candidate platform that filled the evolutionary void of snakes. However, this theory has recently been disproved.
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A lizard, not a snake
New evidence for Tetrapodophis amplectus, published in A study In 2021, that it wasn’t a land snake, but a A small sea lizard that lived in the Cretaceous period.
According to authors Michael Caldwell and Robert Rich, the specimen is a dolichosaurus, a marine lizard related to snakes and mosasaurs, which is why there is confusion when classifying it.
The main clues confirming its identity are hidden in the two slabs of rock where the fossil was found. The 2015 study only looked at a stone slab and not its counterpart.
In one slab, for example, most of the skull’s bones were “flatten like eggshell,” while normal mold was intact in its counterpart. “In the natural mold we see some other characteristic that is the lizard, not the snake,” Caldwell said. Live Science.
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On the other hand, the specimen’s body had long, straight ribs, characteristics that indicated it was a swimmer rather than a burrower. Furthermore, this structure did not have two stability systems that would have allowed it to slide back and forth.
On the four legs, the authors suggest that the front legs were vestigial compared to the hind feet, which were more developed. It should be noted that both were not fossilized, so they could not walk or even catch their prey.
Although it is not a snake, scientists maintain that Tetrapodophis remains as amazing a lizard as it is exotic.
“There are many evolutionary questions that can be answered by finding a four-legged snake fossil, but only if it is real. Our team’s main conclusion is that Tetrapodophis amplectus is not actually a snake and has been misclassified,” Caldwell said.
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