The authors findings have named a new species of snake Xiaophis myanmarensis. Its true identity was confirmed using advanced x-ray scans made at the Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility, which helped the team create very detailed 3D models of the internal anatomy of the fossil.
Scientists have for the first time found a piece of amber containing a snake dating back about 99 million years to the age of dinosaurs.
Scales are visible in a preserved snake skin fragment from one of the snake fossils. They came to the conclusion that almost 100 million years anatomical features of the serpent's spine has changed slightly.
The rich amber deposits from Myanmar's northern province of Kachin have previously offered up well-preserved fossils of birds, the oldest known rain forest frogs, ancient blood-sucking ticks, and even a feathered dinosaur tail.
"This is the first case when we got the fossil of a baby snake", said the lecturer at Alberta University, Canada Michael Caldwell.
"There is a great deal of new information preserved in this new fossilised baby snake". "It is an important-and until now, missing-component of understanding snake evolution from southern continents, that is Gondwana, in the mid-Mesozoic".
"Compared with other fossilized vertebrates, snake fossils are very rare because the bones of most snakes are not very hard".
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The pieces of amber also revise our understanding of the global distribution of snakes by the early Late Cretaceous.
The second fossil, however, has remained unidentified, as the researchers haven't been able to pinpoint whether the skin fragments belong to the same snake species. The amber was found by workers in Myanmar quarries near the Chinese border. Image credit: Xing et al, doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aat5042.
Caldwell and his global team, including collaborators from Australia, China and the United States, have tracked the migration of these ancient Gondwanan snakes beginning 180 million years ago when they were carried by tectonic movements of continents and parts of continents, from Australia and India, to Madagascar and Africa, and finally to Asia, in modern-day India and Myanmar.
The Xiaophis myanmarensis preserved in amber is the oldest known fossil of a baby snake and the first from its time that was discovered in a forested environment.
But in an interesting twist of fate, it was encased in resin and found by humans 99 million years later in Myanmar. It picks up the bugs and the plants and the bug poop. "Some rows converge as observed ventrally in extant snakes", the scientists said.
"It is an ancient form of super glue", Caldwell said.
This suggests that snakes traveled from underwater and coastal regions to forest environments earlier than initially believed, states Science Magazine.