This discovery also reveals just how similar Palaeopython were to contemporary boas. When these modern snakes are young, they hunt down small amphibians and lizards. When they’re older, they start attacking mammals, birds, and fully-grown crocodiles, for example. This ancient juvenile appeared to still be in the former stage.
This extraordinary fossil is a rare snapshot of a time long past. When this snake lived, the world had little to no ice at all, and the temperature difference between the poles and equator was minimal. It was a time of rapid change and many new forms of life began to evolve following huge climatic changes.
The Messel Pit provides science with the best-preserved fossils from that time, but trophic levels – hierarchical sections of a food chain – are difficult to ascertain. This new Russian Doll-like find provides some much-needed clarity about what was or wasn’t on the menu at the time.
Incredibly, this fossil isn’t the first of its kind, and there have been plenty of fossils-within-fossils before. In another example of three trophic levels being preserved, a 250-million-year-old shark was found to have consumed an amphibian that had earlier snapped up a spiny fish.
At least these beasts managed to finish their meals. In 2010, paleontologists uncovered a fossilized Velociraptor that was apparently caught in the act of eating another, larger herbivorous dinosaur. The famous predator had only partially consumed the Protoceratops before its dinner was rudely interrupted by its own death.
An Emerald tree boa, a snake similar to the 48-million-year-old Palaeopython. outdoorsman/Shutterstock
[H/T: National Geographic]