The discovery of a snake near an egg is by no means unusual, but in this case, the snake was 67 million years old — providing scientists with new information about how snakes in the dinosaur era lived, and what they ate.
The fossilized scene is a striking one and the first of its kind: the 11.5-foot-long snake is coiled around a cracked egg and surrounded by several more eggs. Nearby is a dinosaur hatchling, newly emerged from the cracked egg.
The researchers believe that the snake was eyeing the dinosaur baby as a meal. Their findings appear in Tuesday’s issue of the PLoS Biology journal.
“It’s a chance to understand the biology and early anatomy,” said Jeffrey A. Wilson, the paper’s lead author and a paleontologist at the University of Michigan. “The really important thing is that it’s actually caught in the fossil record showing what it’s doing.”
The remains were found in India, in what is now the state of Gujarat, but Dr. Wilson said the species was most likely found throughout the Indian subcontinent.
The fossils were actually first found more than two decades ago, by Dhananjay M. Mohabey, a co-author of this study and a scientist at the Geological Survey of India. He correctly identified the eggs, but did not spot the snake.
Years later, in 2001, Dr. Wilson was on an expedition in India and visited Dr. Mohabey to get a firsthand look at the eggs. He saw what he thought might be a snake, and was stunned.
“Finding a snake that has a good part of its body and almost all of its head is extraordinarily rare,” Dr. Wilson said.
Only about a half dozen other such snake fossils have been found from the time period, and they are from South America and the Middle East, not South Asia.
Dr. Wilson received permission to transport the fossils to his laboratory in Michigan, and in working with them, confirmed the presence of a snake — with an intact skull. It was given the scientific name Sanajeh indicus, meaning ancient gape. …