Researchers from the University of Alberta recently announced the discovery of a 100-million-year-old fossil found in an excavation site in Argentina.
The fossil consists of a cheekbone that provides critical information that could clarify some things regarding the evolution of snakes.
The international research was documented in a study published on November 20. The results suggest that ancient snakes had cheekbones (also known as jugal bones). This may not seem like much, but the news was surprising for scientists that say the fossil offers a key detail in the evolution of this species.
Michael Caldwell is a biological science professor and paleontologist from the University of Alberta. He said: “In the past, the fossil record of snakes has been pretty poor. Lizards have more bones in the cheek region than a typical modern snake does. It makes a difference when you’re tracking the evolution of the ability to eat large prey if you can accurately follow which bones were lost.”
The discovery came after multiple years of collaboration between the University of Alberta and Universidad Maimónides in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Fernando Garberoglio, the lead author of the study, believes the discovery shows that the ancestors of modern snakes were larger, with a bigger mouth. Previously, researchers were convinced that ancient snakes had small burrowing forms, but it turns out they were wrong.
The bone was unearthed by Garberoglio himself several years ago, in the Northern Patagonia region of Argentina. The location proved to be a hot spot for snake fossils, so researchers had to ask for the help of Caldwell, who is one of the few snake scholars in the world. While many discoveries are made in Argentinian excavation sites, snake fossils are generally not found in the region.