Scientists discover fossil snake with two legs

by betterdaze 6 Replies latest social current

  • betterdaze

    Ancient serpent shows its leg
    By Jonathan Amos
    Science reporter, BBC News

    Video caption: The fossil snake with two legs

    What was lost tens of millions of years ago is now found.

    A fossil animal locked in Lebanese limestone has been shown to be an extremely precious discovery - a snake
    with two legs.

    Scientists have only a handful of specimens that illustrate the evolutionary narrative that goes from ancient lizard
    to limbless modern serpent.

    Researchers at the European Light Source (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, used intense X-rays to confirm that a
    creature imprinted on a rock, and with one visible leg, had another appendage buried just under the surface of
    the slab.

    "We were sure he had two legs but it was great to see it, and we hope to find other characteristics that we couldn't
    see on the other limb," said Alexandra Houssaye from the National Museum of Natural History, Paris.

    The 85cm-long (33in) creature, known as Eupodophis descouensi, comes from the Late Cretaceous, about 92
    million years ago.

    Caption: How Eupodophis descouensi might have looked. The legs are far down the body

    Unearthed near the village of al-Nammoura, it was originally described in 2000.

    Its remains are divided across the two interior faces of a thin limestone block that has been broken apart.

    Caption: Synchrotron-radiation computed laminography produces fine detail

    A portion of the vertebral column is missing; and in the process of preservation, the "tail" has become detached and
    positioned near the head.

    But it is the unmistakable leg bones - fibula, tibia and femur - that catch the eye. The stumpy hind-limb is only 2cm
    (0.8in) long, and was presumably utterly useless to the animal in life.

    Current evidence suggests that snakes started to emerge less than 150 million years ago.

    Two theories compete. One points to a land origin in which lizards started to burrow, and as they adapted to their
    subterranean existence, their legs were reduced and lost - first the forelimbs and then the hind-limbs.

    The second theory considers the origin to be in water, from marine reptiles.

    This makes the few known bipedal snakes in the fossil record hugely significant, because they could hold the clues
    that settle this particular debate.

    Caption: Legs in X-ray view (ESRF)
    • The top picture is a synchrotron view of the visible snake leg
    • Synchrotron light in the bottom view illuminates the hidden limb

    "Every detail can be very important in establishing the great relationships and that's why we must know them very well,"
    explained Ms Houssaye.

    "I wanted to study the inner structure of different bones and so for that you would usually use destructive methods; but
    given that this is the only specimen [of E. descouensi], it is totally impossible to do that.

    "3D reconstruction techniques were the only solution. We needed a good resolution and only this machine can do that,"
    she told BBC News.

    That machine is the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. This giant complex on the edge of the Alps produces an intense,
    high-energy light that can pierce just about any material, revealing its inner structure.

    For this study, the fossil snake was clamped to an inclined table and rotated in front of the facility's brilliant X-ray beam.

    In a process known as computed laminography, many hundreds of 2D images are produced which can be woven, with the aid
    of a smart algorithm, into a detailed 3D picture.

    The finished product, which can be spun around on a computer screen, reveals details that will be measured in just millionths of
    a metre.

    The E. descouensi investigation shows the second leg hidden inside the limestone is bent at the knee.

    "We can even see ankle bones," ESRF's resident palaeontologist Paul Tafforeau said.

    "In most cases, we can't find digits; but that may be because they are not preserved or because, as this is a vestigial leg, they
    were never present."

    To modern eyes, it may seem strange to think of a snake with legs.

    But look at some of the more primitive modern snakes, such as boas and pythons, and you'll see evidence of their legged ancestry -
    tiny "spurs" sited near their ends, which today are used as grippers during sex.

  • purplesofa

    Reminds me of an old thread that AlanF and CyborgVision went at it.

    AlanFRe: did snakes have legs 13-Apr-05 17:23

    Post 3965 of 5136
    since 07-Mar-01

    cyborgVision said:

    : I agree that it may sound incredible but not entirely improbable, whether you believe in god or evolution. In fact, taking evolution in this matter seems easier as it would explain bizarre randomness. Read this:

    I'm not entirely sure where you were trying to go with this post, but your subsequent posts suggest to me that you're trying to suggest that the Genesis account of snakes losing their legs (as claimed by the Watchtower Society) has credibility. With that assumption in mind, I'll comment further:

    First, I think that tijkmo's title for the thread, "did snakes have legs", is somewhat misleading in terms of the question addressed by the Watchtower in the "Questions from Readers" article. Note that question again:

    Did the serpent lose legs or feet as means of movement as a result of the divine curse recorded at Genesis 3:14?

    The point is not about whether snakes ever had legs, but whether they had legs and then lost them as a result of a divine curse. As Genesis 3:14 mentions (quoted from tijkmo's post):

    Upon your belly you will go and dust is what you will eat all the days of your life.

    The Watchtower then comments:

    This is the only place in the Bible where any indication is given that the serpent did not at one time travel on its belly. . . for the symbolic application of this judgment upon the wicked spirit creature who became Satan to have any force there must be a fulfillment of it in the literal serpent, which has come to symbolize Satan. It, therefore, is reasonable to conclude that before God cursed it the serpent possessed legs that elevated it above the ground. As he had the power to create the serpent in the first place, God had the power to transform its body so that it ceased to have legs and was able to move about on its belly.

    Understanding this, I commented:

    It's a pretty stupid concept, snakes having legs very recently. Imagine putting four legs on a modern snake. The body is so long that it wouldn't be able to support its own weight. That alone clobbers the Watchtower's idea.

    Apparently not understanding most of this, you gave a link to an article that discussed the discovery of a fossil snake that had legs: . However, the fossil snake only possessed hind legs -- which doesn't do much for the Genesis story. Furthermore, the article clearly stated:

    Rieppel said that it is difficult to tell how the legs themselves might have been used, since they are too small in relation to the animal's whole body to have any locomotor function. Modern pythons have a rudimentary hindlimb, usually little more than a "claw" of cartilage tipped with bone that they use during mating and occasional fighting, and it is possible that Haasiophis' leg served a similar purpose.

    Clearly, this provides no support at all for the Watchtower Society's comments about a snake's legs, but is completely in line with the evolutionary notion that snakes evolved from legged lizards.

    Later, you posted a picture of what is apparently a snake with legs, from this URL: . You commented:

    : Its great to have opinionated discussion but perhaps sometimes you've gotta check your fact too

    I have no idea how you found that URL, but a little checking found a similar picture at that website: . The accompanying caption said:

    The garter snake was first observed and thought to have legs. On closer view, we could see it was swallowing a frog and was almost completely done. It ended up spitting the whole thing out later since it couldn't get it further down. (May 25, 2002 Photo: Jean Legge)

    So the picture is actually nothing more than a snake swallowing a frog! You've gotta check your facts!

    In your last post you said:

    : Or haw about this:

    : Your eagerness to discount anything and everything you've read from the bible might prevent you to examine clear scientific evidence.

    I think it's clear by now that you haven't checked the facts or the evidence, or even understood the question. This URL even makes clear that the discovery of a fossil snake with legs supports evolution, not creation.


    IP: K+ITS0yxp8viqxk0
  • BrentR

    Nevermind.....thought it was a thread about Hillary Clinton.

  • Nathan Natas
    Nathan Natas

    Anyone want to start a pool on how long it will before before Lebanon begins accusing Israel of stealing the other legs?

  • hillary_step


    Anyone want to start a pool on how long it will before before Lebanon begins accusing Israel of stealing the other legs?

    About as long as it takes a Creationist 'scientist' to suggest that both legs are on one side of the body, the other two are missing, and that this was actually Noah's cat who lost his fur due to a vitamin deficiency that stems from a lack of faith. HS

  • WTWizard

    Boy, they had better get an awfully big ping pong table.

  • Eyes Open
    Eyes Open

    Aha! A snake with legs, just like Genesis says. Once again, science proves the bible correct! ;)

    (They're just a little out with the dating at the moment, that's all...)

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