Researchers also compared the new fossil's bone structure to an existing database of snake fossils to see where it might fit into the evolutionary record.
Snakes have been roaming the Earth for approximately 167 million years. It appears the animals were more widely spread than previously thought, though the researchers caution more specimens are needed before they can determine routes of slithery migration across the Southern Hemisphere supercontinent of Gondwana. "In this particular specimen, part of what makes it more snake-like is the diamond shape of the scales", Caldwell says.
"This is the first case when we got the fossil of a baby snake", said the lecturer at Alberta University, Canada Michael Caldwell. And through the use of a micro-CT scanner and a synchrotron, scientists confirmed that the specimen was a baby snake, a new species they named Xiaophis myanmarensis.
The chunk of amber that holds the baby snake also has a scrap of shed skin that the researchers believe might have once belonged to a larger snake. It is not clear whether findings in the same species.
Scales are visible in a preserved snake skin fragment from one of the snake fossils.
The animal became stuck in tree sap, a sticky substance that can preserve skin, scales, fur, feathers or even whole creatures. This mine, as Caldwell stated, has a high centralization of vertebrates.
"Amber is totally unique - whatever it touches is frozen in time inside of the plastic-like resin".
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This was the same time that hulking beasts like the Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops and Spinosaurus were dominating the planet and this newly-discovered juvenile snake would have seemed incredibly tiny by comparison. The fossil, which is the first of its kind, is around two inches in length and has 97 vertebrae. Intriguingly, the snake's head is missing.
At less than two inches long, the snake is very tiny and hard to see clearly with the naked eye, but the x-ray scans allowed the team to carefully study the shape and position of its bones, including a remarkable 97 vertebrae or backbones.
Xiaophis myanmarensis snake hatchlings shown emerging from their eggs on the forest floor 100 million years ago.
"I've learned critical details about snake development".
Fragments of plants and insects found inside the amber confirm that the snake lived in forests.
The skull is missing from the snake but the team were able to analyse 97 vertebrae plus attached ribs and they concluded that the backbone of snakes have changed very little over the course of almost 100 million years.
The pieces of amber also revise our understanding of the global distribution of snakes by the early Late Cretaceous. Worldwide, only around 15 fossils have been found from this period. The area previously yielded the tail of a feathered dinosaur, their ticks, as well as a baby frog, all encased in the attractive amber that the region is famed for.