It is the earliest python in the world to be identified from 47 million year old fossil remains

Messel’s python head and body are almost completely preserved. Credit: Hessian Darmstadt State Museum

Together with his colleague Hussam Zaher from the University of São Paulo, Senckenberg scientist Krister Smith described the world’s oldest fossils of python. The almost completely preserved snakes with a length of about one meter were found in a “Messel Pit” on a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are about 47 million years old. The new python species, Messelopython freyi, was named in honor of paleontologist Eberhard “Dino” Frey of the State Natural History Museum in Karlsruhe. The study was published today in the scientific journal Biology Letters.

Reaching a length of more than six meters, pythons are among the largest snakes in the world. Today, various species of these constraints are found especially in Africa, south and southeast Asia, and Australia. “The geographical origin of pythons is not yet clear. So the discovery of a new python species in the Messel Pit is a major step forward in understanding the evolutionary history of these snakes,” explained Dr. Krister Smith of the Research Institute Senckenberg and Natural History. Museum in Frankfurt.

The new python genus Messelopython freyi described by Smith and his Brazilian colleague Dr Hussam Zaher is the oldest known fossil record of python anywhere in the world. “According to what we have found out, these snakes already happened in Europe during the Eocene era, 47 million years ago. Our analyzes trace their evolutionary history to Europe! “add Zaher.

However, the large constrictor snakes later disappeared from continental Europe for a long time. Fossils of this snake family did not reappear until the Miocene – between 23 and 5 million years ago. “As the global climate began to cool down again after the Miocene, the pythons re-emerged from Europe,” said Smith.

The earliest python in the world is found

The new python genus Messelopython freyi is the world’s oldest fossil record of python. Credit: Senckenberg

Despite the primeval python from Messel, today’s pythons live in complete spatial separation from their very anatomically similar relatives, the boas. “However, in Messel, both Messelopython freyi as well as primitive boots like Eoconstrictor fischeri lived together in the same ecosystem – so we have to go back to the thesis that these two groups of snakes ‘compete with each other, enabling them to share the same habitats,’ explained Smith.

The snake’s scientific name is a combination of the area where it was found and the snake’s family. The unique story of the recently discovered fossils is the result of Dr. Eberhard Frey of the Karlsruhe State Museum of Natural History. Eberhard Frey is nicknamed ‘Dino’ for a good reason – he is world – famous for his meticulous study of fossil reptiles. By naming a new species after him, we wanted to honor his achievements in the field of paleontology, “Smith explains naming the crown.


Fossil snake with infrared vision: A study of the early evolution of snakes in the Messel Pit


Further information:
Hussam Zaher et al. Pythons in Eocene Europe show a much older separation of the group in sympathy with boas, Biology Letters (2020). DOI: 10.1098 / rsbl.2020.0735

Presented by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

Citation: The world’s earliest python identified from 47 million year old fossil remains (2020, December 16) recovered December 17, 2020 from https://phys.org/news/2020-12-world-earliest -python-million-year-old -fossil.html

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