Senckenberg scientist Krister Smith and his colleague Hussam Zaher of the University in São Paulo discovered the world’s oldest python fossil that lived 48 million years ago in what is now Germany.
The scientists found the fossils of the snake in an ancient lake which helped them track the origins of the python. Scientists were not sure where pythons came from, with some claiming that it originated in the Southern Hemisphere, where they are mostly found. Others also said that pythons might have originated in the Northern Hemisphere where their closest relatives are found.
The stunningly well-preserved specimen was discovered at the Messel Pit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and disused quarry in Germany that has revealed a treasure trove of fossilized discoveries in recent decades, including an array of prehistoric mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish.
But the newly found species of the python, named Messelopython freyi, that changes it all. Perhaps pythons once evolved in Europe in the past, according to Live Science. Messelopython freyi must have been the same size as the small pythons today which measures 3.2 feet (1 meter) in length and 275 vertebrae. Besides, the researchers noted that the discovery of the fossil has shed light on its relationship to boa constrictors.
They said that this python has lived alongside boa constrictors during the early times of Europe. Unlike today in which boa constrictors are not found living near the modern-day pythons.
Generally speaking, boa constrictors live in South and Central America, Madagascar, and Northern Oceania. Meanwhile, pythons live in Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, but none are found in Europe (other than zoos and pet collections, obviously). Since this new discovery is the oldest python fossil ever discovered, the researchers argue that this indicates that pythons might have some strong evolutionary ties to chunks of land that are now in Europe.
“The geographic origin of pythons is still not clear. The discovery of a new python species in the Messel Pit is therefore a major leap forward in understanding these snakes’ evolutionary history,” Dr Krister Smith of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt said in a statement.
“According to our findings, these snakes already occurred in Europe at the time of the Eocene, over 47 million years ago. Our analyses trace their evolutionary history to Europe!” added Dr Hussam Zaher, study author from the University of São Paulo.