"All of these data refine our understanding of early snake evolution, as 100-million year-old snakes are known from only 20 or so relatively complete fossil snake species", said Caldwell. Together the two specimens open a new chapter in the study of snake evolution and ontogeny - the study of how an individual organism develops from birth to maturity.
We've also found birds, a chameleon, a "vampire" ant, and even a small feathered dinosaur tail in amber from Myanmar. The degree of preservation allowed the team to model the pigmentation pattern of the animal in life.
The piece of amber described in the study was originally privately owned and was later donated to the museum of the Dexu Institute of Palaeontology, near Beijing, where the researchers were able to analyze it, Caldwell said.
The baby snake, classified as new species Xiaophis myanmarensis, was about 47.5 mm in length, or roughly 1.9 inches, though its head was not preserved. The scientists aren't quite sure why or how the snake was decapitated, inviting images of a dinosaur chomping down on the pint-sized snake as it tried its best to escape, but it's equally likely that the remains of the snake had begun to fall apart before the tree sap managed to smother it. Both present intriguing evidence about the ancestors of modern snakes that lived millions of years ago, researchers reported in a new study.
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.
The snake hatchling's ribs and vertebrae were preserved and are clearly visible. The spinal cord was found to form late in the snake's development; when compared to present-day snakes, very little about their spinal bone development has changed. Instead, it met a sticky end in a patch of resin that eventually formed the wee snake's amber tomb.
"It is clear that this little snake was living in a forested environment with numerous insects and plants, as these are preserved in the clast", explained Caldwell.
This has not been shown before for this time period, as the few other fossil snakes discovered come from rocks associated with rivers or the sea. 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.
The creature has been frozen in time for 99 million years.
The findings were published online today (July 18) in the journal Science Advances.