Recent Science Discoveries, 2000

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Snakes with Legs?
And other recent science discoveries

by Otto Johnson

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THE FOSSIL OF A NEW SPECIES of snake with small front and hind limbs was found in 95-million-year-old deposits near Jerusalem. The site was once an ancient marine environment, suggesting a seafaring lifestyle for the fossilized snake. Dubbed Haasiophis terrasanctus, it is the second limbed species of primitive snake to come from there.

Contrasting Views of Snake Evolution

The first such species, Pachyrhachis problematicus, is thought by some paleontologists to be a transitional link between mosasaurs—gigantic swimming lizards of the Cretaceous period—and true snakes. This view of snakes originating in the sea contrasts with the traditional view that snake ancestors were small terrestrial or burrowing lizards who eventually lost their legs through evolution.

Features Not Found in Lizards

A group of scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have concluded that the new species was closely related to Pachyrhachis. Each of the fossil animals has a hinged upper jaw and a skull that completely surrounds the brain, feaures not found in lizards.

It is not known how the legs themselves might have been used since they are too small in relation to the animal's body to have any locomotor function.