A recent research of a creature that was initially touted as the world’s first “four-legged snake” has discovered that it is actually a lizard.
According to a 2015 study, Tetrapodophis amplectus (Greek for “four-footed serpent”), a 120 million-year-old fossil unearthed in Brazil, was the first snake to have more than two limbs. Only two were found in other early snake fossils.
However, scientists in Canada have questioned the conclusions from the start, as has their own investigation of the fossil, according to a statement released this week by the University of Toronto.
“I was furious that such shoddy science had made it into a top scientific magazine,” remarked biology professor Robert Reisz.
“We got access to the specimen soon after the original publication by raising hell, and then we were able to investigate it.” And we basically went out and performed our due diligence and came up with a lot more reasonable alternate explanation: this is a small lizard, not a snake.
For starters, its skull resembles that of a lizard rather than a snake, and it lacks the capacity to remove bones in order to swallow prey whole. Its teeth were likewise more lizard-like than snake-like, with bent incisors to prevent live prey from escaping.
Another red flag for Dr. Reisz was that the specimen investigated was illegally obtained – Brazil prohibits the export of fossils, but it was purchased by a private collector who sold it to researchers in the United Kingdom, who claimed it was a legged snake.
“It was unethical to do so. There are regulations in place to protect (these national treasures), and we should follow them and work within the system rather than being enticed by the allure of an intriguing fossil obtained through immoral means.”
Rather of being a snake that evolved legs, the lizard turned out to be a dolichosaur that de-evolved legs to better survive in the water.
“We want to learn the truth and get as near to it as possible. Every new intriguing fossil we discover brings us closer to that goal. We learn more about the life that came before us.”