Science and Technology News

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Fossil Snake Fed on Hatchling Dinosaurs

This life size reconstruction shows a moment captured in time through a fossil, when a snake coiled around a recently hatched, crushed dinosaur egg adjacent to a hatchling sauropod. The remains of the fossil, unearthed in 67-million-year-old sediments from Gujarat in western India, has given scientists a rare glimpse of an unusual feeding behavior in ancient snakes.

The nearly complete snake was found preserved in the nest of a sauropod dinosaur. The 11.5 foot-long snake, which represents a new species (Sanajeh indicus), was no match for the 1.6 foot-long baby dinosaur that was probably defenseless. Remains of other snake individuals associated with egg clutches at the same site indicate that the newly described snake survived by feeding on young dinosaurs. The arrangement of the bones and delicate structures, such as eggshells and the snake's skull, point to quick entombment.

The discovery was made by an international paleontology team led by Jeff Wilson of the University of Michigan (U-M) and Dhananjay Mohabey of the Geological Survey of India.

"We think that the hatchling had just exited its egg, and that activity attracted the snake," said Mohabey. "The eggs were lain in the loose sands near a small drainage and covered by a thin layer of sediment."

The decade long odyssey required preparation and study of the fossil at U-M's Museum of Paleontology, weeks of museum study in India, and field reconnaissance at the original location in Gujarat by a team that included Wilson, Mohabey, snake expert Jason Head of the University of Toronto-Mississaugua and geologist Shanan Peters of the University of Wisconsin. (Date of Image: 2008)

Credit: Sculpture by Tyler Keillor; original photography by Ximena Erickson; image modified by Bonnie Miljour

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