The Mesozoic is often called the Age of Reptiles, a time when scaly, fluffy, strange creatures ran riot. Dinosaurs, pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, and more are the stars of this time, representing a chapter in Earth’s history when saurians were large and in charge. But the Mesozoic wasn’t just the heyday of forms now extinct. It also saw the early days of some reptiles that continue to thrive in our modern world.
Snakes got their start in the Jurassic. Small, but distinctive, vertebrae found at sites from Portugal to western Colorado show that these sinuous reptiles slithered onto the evolutionary stage by about 170 million years ago. From there they thrived at small size, spreading over the planet, and a handful of bones found in Venezuela has just added a little more to the group’s long tale.
Paleontologist Adriana Albino and colleagues have named the snake Lunaophis aquaticus. The smattering of vertebrae pulled from the roughly 100-million-year-old rock indicate that this animal was part of the Mesozoic’s great snake radiation. More than that, the researchers argue, the compressed anatomy and density of the recovered bones hint that Lunaophis was a dedicated swimmer, undulating through the ancient sea just as some snakes continue to do today.
Name: Lunaophis aquaticus
Meaning: Lunaophis means “La Luna snake,” after the formation in which the fossils were found, and aquaticus denotes the reptile’s hypothesized life in the water.
Age: Cretaceous, around 100 million years old.
Where in the world?: Trujillo State, Venezuela
What sort of critter?: A snake.
Size: Unknown, but estimated to be about five feet long.
How much of the creature’s body is known?: Ten vertebrae from various parts of the spine.
Albino, A., Carrillo-Briceño, J., Neenan, J. 2016. An enigmatic aquatic snake from the Cenomanian of Northern South America. PeerJ. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2027
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