Researchers have found fossils of a new species of snakes, named Zilantophis schuberti, in the US. According to researchers, this species existed about five million years ago, and featured broad wing-shaped projections.
The fossils were found from Gray Fossil Site in the US, one of the richest fossil localities in the US. Fossils commonly found at this site usually belong to Neogene period (23 million to 2.58 million years ago). When Zilantophis dwelled in this region, it was a sinkhole surrounded by forest, and attracted a large number of animals.
In this study, researchers closely examined for hours a large number of dark mineral-stained snake fossils. Interestingly, they found a snake species not matching any known snake species.
“Snakes do not have arms or legs, but they have high numbers of vertebrae. These are often the bones that paleontologists use to identify fossil snakes,” said Steven Jasinski, a doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.
Researchers say Zilantophis featured uniquely broad wing-shaped projections on the sides of its vertebrae, which were probably attachment sites for back muscles. It was likely related to rat snakes (Pantherophis) and kingsnakes (Lampropeltis), commonly found in North America.
In Russian mythology, a winged serpent is named Zilant, and this mythological creature inspired scientists in naming the new species as Zilantophis schuberti.
“It is about as large around as your pointer finger,” said Jasinski.
David Moscato, holding a master’s degree from East Tennessee State University says “these snake vertebrae are tiny.”
“Before we can study them, they have to be meticulously separated from the sediment and other bones. This work is done by dedicated museum workers, students and volunteers,” said Moscato.
The detailed findings of the study have been published in the Journal of Herpetology.