Forget everything you thought you knew about snakes: a new study from Yale shows that early snakes had developed hind legs, fully equipped with ankles and toes.
Yale researchers analyzed snake genomes, modern snakes and fossils of ancient snakes to build a comprehensive reconstruction of the most recent common ancestor of the 3,400 modern snake species. Their results are published in the latest edition of the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.
“Our analyses suggest that the most recent common ancestor of all living snakes would have already lost its forelimbs, but would still have had tiny hind limbs, with complete ankles and toes,” remarked study co-author Daniel Field, a Yale Ph.D. candidate.
While strange, the revelation isn’t exactly surprising: many scientists believe that modern snakes evolved from a four-legged ancient lizard. Nonetheless, a snake with legs is a pretty surprising creature to visualize.
Field and his team also found that the ancestral snake was a nocturnal predator with a nasty set of hooked teeth, which allowed it to swallow its prey completely whole. It roamed the Earth’s forests during the middle Early Cetaceous period, approximately 130 million years ago.