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Fossil of dinosaur-eating snake discovered in India

A reconstruction of the moment the prehistoric snake Sanajeh indicus attacks a hatchling dinosaur. Photo: Tyler Keillor, Ximena Erickson and Bonnie Miljour/PA

A reconstruction of the moment the prehistoric snake Sanajeh indicus attacks a hatchling dinosaur. Photo: Tyler Keillor, Ximena Erickson and Bonnie Miljour/PA

Even dinosaurs may have been afraid of snakes, a new discovery suggests.

Scientists have unearthed the almost complete fossil skeleton of an 11-foot prehistoric snake that preyed on baby dinosaurs.

The creature, was "caught in the act" of pursuing its latest meal 67 million years ago.

Its body was found in a dinosaur nest coiled around a recently hatched and crushed egg, and next to it was an 18-inch fossil hatchling titanosaur - an edibly small version of a plant-eating giant that as an adult weighed up to 100 tonnes.

The remains of two other snakes were also found paired with eggs at the same site in Gujarat, western India.

The snake, named Sanajeh Indicus, lacked the wide-open jaws of modern snakes such as pythons and boa constrictors and would not have been able to swallow a whole dinosaur egg.

But baby dinosaurs would have been just its size, according to researchers.

Jason Head, from the University of Toronto in Canada, who led a study of the snake, yesterday reported in the online journal PLoS One: "Living primitive snakes are small animals whose diet is limited by their jaw size, but the evolution of a large body size in Sanajeh would have allowed it to eat a wide range of prey, including dinosaur hatchlings.

"This is the first direct evidence of feeding behaviour in a fossil primitive snake, and shows us that the ecology and early evolutionary history of snakes were much more complex than we would think just by looking at modern snakes today."

The fossils were first uncovered in 1987 by dinosaur egg expert Dhananjay Mohabey, from the Geological Survey of India.

At first they were identified as the remains of a hatchling dinosaur. It was not until 2001 that palaeontologist Jeff Wilson, from the University of Michigan in the US, spotted the tell-tale bone patterns of a snake.

"I saw the characteristic vertebrae of a snake beside the dinosaur eggshell and larger bones, and I knew it was an extraordinary specimen, even if I couldn't put the whole story together at that point," said Dr Wilson.

More experts were brought in, and years of further research and field trips followed.

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