Long wait for a snake skull


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Long wait for a snake skull

This story of the first nearly complete skull of a poorly known, extinct family of snakes is not about serendipity, or the ‘will to fail’ (Tom Rich’s well-known expression for his doggedly persistent search for Australian Mesozoic mammals), but of preparation, patience and the Micawberish confidence that ‘something will turn up.’

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

I started working on fossil snakes from the mid-Cainozoic fossil deposits of Riversleigh back in 1987. At the time I was mainly interested in the evolution and relationships of Australia’s venomous snakes, the elapids, and had been examining the skeletons of recent museum specimens in the search for clues to how the species were related to each other. In particular I wanted to identify the closest relatives of the highly specialised, brightly coloured burrowing ‘coral snakes’ (Simoselaps) – one of which was the first snake I ever caught, setting me on the slithery slope to my subsequent career. When I heard Professor Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales (UNSW) mention snakes while talking about recent discoveries at Riversleigh, I began to think about how fossils could answer some of my questions about the living animals. With luck, I might find the ancestors of the modern groups in the fossil record, or at least fill in some morphological gaps between specialised living groups. If the record went back far enough, there might even be evidence for the time the ancestral elapids arrived in Australia by rafting or swimming across the sea from south-east Asia.

AAOD Journal Issue 5 (2007) – pages 74 to 80
By Dr John Scanlon 

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