Pharyngula

Fossil snake with legs

Check it out: it’s yet another transitional form, a 92 million year old snake with two hindlimbs. Cool! Just last week I was told that none of these things exist.

Comments

  1. #1 DaveX
    April 10, 2008

    How long until the nutjobs demand a one-legged fossil snake to “fill in the gap” between no-legs and two legs?

    AND WHAT ABOUT CENTIPEDES?!?!1111

  2. #2 Holbach
    April 10, 2008

    That’s a long rewind! It will not play after three tries!

  3. #3 Alex
    April 10, 2008

    Damn. Two more missing transition fossils to find.

  4. #4 Sigmund
    April 10, 2008

    It was found in Lebanon, apparently.
    Wait a second…….
    Middle east……..serpent……..the leg situation makes it look like its being forced to crawl on its belly……
    Perhaps we need to check it out for vocal chords!

  5. #5 Corey Schlueter
    April 10, 2008

    And then there is a lungless frog they have found in Indonesia.

  6. #6 mattmc
    April 10, 2008

    Very cool.
    It has been an exciting week for herpetology enthusiasts like myself with the lungless frog that was (re)discovered in Indonesia and now this. Plus it almost feels like spring here in upstate NY today, soon it will be warm enough to find some local reptiles and amphibians.

  7. #7 S. Fisher
    April 10, 2008

    Perhaps this snake used these legs to hold apples.

  8. #8 rowan
    April 10, 2008

    This is a great find…..pity for me it wasn’t a few days earlier though

    I was at a cdesign proponentsist talk by Stuart Burgess on Tuesday evening (he is one of the leading nutjobs in the UK). One of his favorite ‘irreducibly complex’ structures is the knee joint.

    In the Q and A afterwards I challenged him with the human chromosome 2 fusion story, which he had no answer for.

    But, this would have been PERFECT!!!

    Next time!!

  9. #9 LARA
    April 10, 2008

    Hmmm. I wonder why only two limbs are retained instead of four smaller, nonfunctional vestigal appendages?

  10. #10 andyo
    April 10, 2008

    Can’t you see it! That’s exactly what you’d expect if God was trying to test our faith. A 92 million-year-old transitional fossil is a great set-up. Do you believe now?

  11. #11 JohnR
    April 10, 2008

    Nice! But it’s really a waste of time to try to use these to convince the True Believers. Everything can be explained away, or defined away. And, of course, your willingness to debate shows that you are at least marginally aware of the inherent weakness of your side…
    It’s good to keep hammering on this, though, because all those of Little Real Faith may actually start to think about what they’ve been told is The Only Truth. (Come to the Dark Side – we have not just cookies, but also pretty pictures…)

  12. #12 locksmyth
    April 10, 2008

    This is a great discovery, I love hearing about these finds.
    Unfortunately I don’t believe it will have any effect on the attack on science. Perhaps it’s just my cynical nature but I can already hear the apologetics.

    “It’s proof of genesis, the age is simply wrong”
    “It’s proof that mutations can only remove ‘information’.”
    “How do we know that the legs aren’t from an animal that it was eating when the flood buried them?”

  13. #13 JCG
    April 10, 2008

    #12

    “It’s proof of genesis, the age is simply wrong”
    “It’s proof that mutations can only remove ‘information’.”
    “How do we know that the legs aren’t from an animal that it was eating when the flood buried them?”

    My favorite is…
    “That’s just a snapshot in time! You’re cherrypicking! How do you know it wasn’t created that way! Why can’t we see transitional species living NOW, and not just in the past!”

  14. #14 wazza
    April 10, 2008

    I think we should appreciate this as really cool science all on its own, without thinking of the implications for the Great Struggle

    that can wait until tomorrow, right?

  15. #15 carlsonjok
    April 10, 2008

    That’s exactly what you’d expect if God was trying to test our faith.

    No, no, no, no. This is meant to support the faith. Snakes weren’t condemned to crawl on their bellies until after The Fall. This is clearly THE SERPENT and the site it was found on must be the Garden of Eden.

  16. #16 Damian
    April 10, 2008

    That machine is the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility. This giant complex on the edge of the Alps produces an intense, high-energy light that can pierce just about any material, revealing its inner structure.

    For this study, the fossil snake was clamped to an inclined table and rotated in front of the facility’s brilliant X-ray beam.

    In a process known as computed laminography, many hundreds of 2D images are produced which can be woven, with the aid of a smart algorithm, into a detailed 3D picture.

    The finished product, which can be spun around on a computer screen, reveals details that will be measured in just millionths of a metre.

    The E. descouensi investigation shows the second leg hidden inside the limestone is bent at the knee.

    This is why we love science. It’s that mode of thought – the spirit of scientific investigation – that there just has to be a solution. And invariably there is.

    As there is only one specimen, it’s not possible to do anything destructive with the fossil to get at the second limb. But there is another way. Now we get to see the fibula, tibia and femur of a 92 million year old Eupodophis descouensi, a snake with two limbs.

    Let’s hope that they find more.

  17. #17 andyo
    April 10, 2008

    Nice! But it’s really a waste of time to try to use these to convince the True Believers. Everything can be explained away, or defined away. And, of course, your willingness to debate shows that you are at least marginally aware of the inherent weakness of your side…
    It’s good to keep hammering on this, though, because all those of Little Real Faith may actually start to think about what they’ve been told is The Only Truth. (Come to the Dark Side – we have not just cookies, but also pretty pictures…)

    Posted by: JohnR | April 10, 2008 10:07 AM

    Are you talking to me? Cause I’ll debate allright. The Big G is on MY side.

  18. #18 locksmyth
    April 10, 2008

    #14 wazza you are absolutely right. It’s just so very hard to keep that mindset, I’ve only recently moved to the US and I’ve never been in such a crushingly ignorant environment. It’s hard to see anything but the struggle sometimes.

  19. #19 Andreas Johansson
    April 10, 2008

    Tis isn’t the first leggy snake from the Middle East. Previously known ones include Haasiophis and Pachyrhachis.

    Apparently, these two are inside the crown group, meaning that either their legs are reversals, or, perhaps more likely, that the leglessness of modern snakes is homoplastic. If Eupodophis turns out to be outside the crown, it’s very interesting indeed.

  20. #20 rowan
    April 10, 2008

    JohnR #11

    “Nice! But it’s really a waste of time to try to use these to convince the True Believers. Everything can be explained away, or defined away. And, of course, your willingness to debate shows that you are at least marginally aware of the inherent weakness of your side…
    It’s good to keep hammering on this, though, because all those of Little Real Faith may actually start to think about what they’ve been told is The Only Truth. (Come to the Dark Side – we have not just cookies, but also pretty pictures…)”

    Whats the inherent weakness on my side???

    The only reason to debate is to convince the people in the audience that the cdesign proponentsist speaker doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

    He couldn’t answer any scientific question. I didn’t expect him to be able to. I’m not trying to change the mind of True Believers. But anyone in the audience who is 50/50 can see the IDiot for what he is when he crumbles under logic and reason.

    As he kept going on about the knee joint (he has some bogus article on it in AIG) this find would have blown his talk out of the water!!

  21. #21 John R
    April 10, 2008

    Hey, locksmyth – welcome to the Great Satan!
    Sometimes those of us who know only this forget how depressing it can be; you made me wonder about it – when exactly did it become such a prideful thing to be ignorant? Was it those blasted Pilgrims, who have hijacked the Founder status from the original waves of settlers (including the 13-20,000 year-ago ones)?

  22. #22 John R
    April 10, 2008

    sorry, Rowan; I was trying to be clever – it’s not that ‘your side’ is inherently weak, it’s rather that this is the the starting assumption of the True Believers, and basically, anything you do or don’t do is used as support for that assumption. By all means go on arguing; it won’t do any good against the TBs, but it will hopefully bring a few of the less committed over to the Dark Side with us.

  23. #23 386sx
    April 10, 2008

    And then there is a lungless frog they have found in Indonesia.

    Don’t forget the mysterious drama squirrel creature (which is apparently going to be even more popular than the mysterious Dawkins rap. That’s quite an accomplishment and quite an fine piece of artistry!)

  24. #24 rowan
    April 10, 2008

    I see JohnR, sometimes its hard to read the context of cleverness!!

    If one 50/50 person in that talk saw his fallacy-mongering, I’ll be happy….

    BTW, this talk was in Ireland and the majority of the audience argued with him in the Q and A. In Europe evolution is much more widely accepted than in the States. I think something like 60-70% of the public accept evolution…

    …whats goin on over your side of the pond is just plain crazy. At least you know the rest of the world is with you…

  25. #25 True Bob
    April 10, 2008

    There are living snakes with vestiges of legs.

    http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/images/spurs2.jpg

    Little green spurs are visible next to and just behind the last belly plate. They are really tiny and sort of greenish.

    There are also legless lizards, the glass snake being the one I know (FL critter).

    descriptor
    http://www.anapsid.org/legless.html

    picture
    http://www.jdmpics.com/animals/slender-glass-lizard.jpg

  26. #26 True Bob
    April 10, 2008
  27. #27 Peter
    April 10, 2008

    Now, if had fossilised vocal chords and a copy of the “Rough guide to the Cretaceous”, that’d be something.

  28. #28 Glen Davidson
    April 10, 2008

    Yeah, but where are the millions of transitionals that would have had to exist?

    Above seems to be the typical fallback position now. Why bother with, “there are two more gaps now,” when you can just demand every last transitional form, knowing that will always be impossible to do?

    Positive evidence that fits evolutionary predictions won’t do–they know it exists, and they’re determined not to pay it any heed. Now they’re supposedly willing to believe, just so long as there is no evidence missing.

    The IDiots have always been good at that, of course, demanding that we know how the flagellum evolved, or the fallback position is “design.” The evidence that it did evolve can be fobbed off by saying that evolution may well have occurred, but “Darwinism” isn’t sufficient–and the simple fact that evidence for evolution only is possible via scientific mechanisms predicting such evidence, and not at all from any “design hypothesis”, is simply ignored.

    Oh yeah, any actual ID explanation for vestigial legs, less well-adapted transitionals like archaeopteryx (why would God make lesser designs where evolution predicts them, at the base of adaptive radiation?) just isn’t forthcoming–after all, they don’t care about anything but concluding God, so ID’s lack of scientific value is no trouble to them.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/2kxyc7

  29. #29 Fire Ant
    April 10, 2008

    This is the sort of cool stuff that is an example of science at work. Contrast this to the repetitious drone of the ID folks who complain and shout all the time…..where’s the very cool discoveries coming out of their camp?????

  30. #30 Aquaria
    April 10, 2008

    when exactly did it become such a prideful thing to be ignorant?

    The entertainment industry that has a stranglehold on the attention span of too many Americans is partially to blame. It’s amazing how many ads, movies and TV shows use the premise of the proudly ignorant idiot as hero “showing up” the smart person/people. The list of shows that do this is amazingly long. Some of the worst offenders in my memory are Forrest Gump, any of those wretched movies by the people who made Dumb and Dumber, Moonlighting and Welcome Back Kotter. Somehow, the dumber segment of Americans have confused dumb and/or loud with bucking the system, being a rebel, so to speak. And hence “cool.” Dumb is, unfortunately, cool to too many people, and they get plenty of reinforcement in Hollywood’s drivel.

    I can barely get through 99% of Hollywood entertainment without turning it off in disgust at the inanity of it all.

  31. #31 B
    April 10, 2008

    Re: lungless frog article

    Bickford said the species is the first frog known to science without lungs and joins a short list of amphibians with this unusual trait, including a few species of salamanders and a wormlike creature known as a caecilian.

    This is a minor nitpick, but more than half of all salamander species (250+ and growing) are members of the completely lungless family Plethodontidae. While this is an unusual trait for a frog, it constitutes a major life history trait (and presumable adaptation) in salamanders.

    Of course, there are many thousands of extant species of frogs and only many hundreds of extant species of salamanders. In that comparison, I guess there really are just “a few species of salamanders” that are lungless.

  32. #32 Tim Tesar
    April 10, 2008

    I’d like to suggest that evolutionists under use the existence of LIVING transitional forms in their responses to creationists. We need more mention of lung less frogs, snakes with legs, etc. in such discussions.

    Regarding lizards and snakes, one could mention the skinks (from WikiPedia):

    Skinks look roughly like true lizards, but most species have no pronounced neck and sport relatively small legs. Several genera (e.g., Typhlosaurus) have no limbs at all, others, such as Neoseps, have only reduced limbs. Often, their way of moving resembles that of snakes more than that of other lizards. Skinks usually have long, tapering tails that can be shed and regenerated.

  33. #33 Stephen Wells
    April 10, 2008

    If a creationist asks for millions of transitional forms, tell him that there should only be a hundred-odd transitional forms between him and Adam. All he needs to do is show us all of them, and we’ll convert on the spot :)

    Bonus points for getting very concerned that he doesn’t have all those bones, and pointing out that this means he clearly didn’t have any ancestors at all.

  34. #34 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    Hmmm. I wonder why only two limbs are retained instead of four smaller, nonfunctional vestigal appendages?

    Because the snakes have switched off forelimb development altogether by changing the identity of the shoulder region to “trunk”. A small trick with Hox genes, as far as I’m aware (…I still haven’t read the paper which came out in 1999!).

    BTW, Eupodophis is just one of several Cretaceous legged snakes (Pachyrhachis, Haasiophis, Pachyophis, Najash). All that’s new here is that the CT scan made the second leg on the only known specimen of E. visible.

    the leg situation makes it look like its being forced to crawl on its belly……

    Nope, it swam. It was marine.

    Apparently, these two are inside the crown group

    The latest word on this issue appears to be the Wonambi paper, which finds them all outside.

    As he kept going on about the knee joint (he has some bogus article on it in AIG) this find would have blown his talk out of the water!!

    Why? The knee of E. is an ordinary knee.

  35. #35 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    Hmmm. I wonder why only two limbs are retained instead of four smaller, nonfunctional vestigal appendages?

    Because the snakes have switched off forelimb development altogether by changing the identity of the shoulder region to “trunk”. A small trick with Hox genes, as far as I’m aware (…I still haven’t read the paper which came out in 1999!).

    BTW, Eupodophis is just one of several Cretaceous legged snakes (Pachyrhachis, Haasiophis, Pachyophis, Najash). All that’s new here is that the CT scan made the second leg on the only known specimen of E. visible.

    the leg situation makes it look like its being forced to crawl on its belly……

    Nope, it swam. It was marine.

    Apparently, these two are inside the crown group

    The latest word on this issue appears to be the Wonambi paper, which finds them all outside.

    As he kept going on about the knee joint (he has some bogus article on it in AIG) this find would have blown his talk out of the water!!

    Why? The knee of E. is an ordinary knee.

  36. #36 ShavenYak
    April 10, 2008

    It was found in Lebanon, apparently.
    Wait a second…….
    Middle east……..serpent……..the leg situation makes it look like its being forced to crawl on its belly……
    Perhaps we need to check it out for vocal chords!

    There should also be dust in its digestive tract, since that’s what it was told to eat.

  37. #39 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    and a wormlike creature known as a caecilian.

    One species (Atretochoana eiselti) out of the 170 known species of caecilians is lungless.

  38. #40 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    and a wormlike creature known as a caecilian.

    One species (Atretochoana eiselti) out of the 170 known species of caecilians is lungless.

  39. #41 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    April 10, 2008

    Oops. The lede was supposed to be:

    And then there is a lungless frog they have found in Indonesia.

  40. #42 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    April 10, 2008

    Oops. The lede was supposed to be:

    And then there is a lungless frog they have found in Indonesia.

  41. #43 BlueIndependent
    April 10, 2008

    PZ PZ PZ. You jump to conclusions so quickly. OBVIOUSLY this is just a simple serpent that happened to die next to a couple femur-shaped twigs.

    Ha ha ha! You evilutionists slay me!

  42. #44 Craig Helfgott
    April 10, 2008

    Speaking of fossils, have you ever listened to Dima The Kirgilyakh Mammoth? Really great paleontology song. Anything with a line like “Sing me of fluvial sediments.”…

    (Don’t worry, this is a free download off the artist’s website).

  43. #45 AJS
    April 10, 2008

    Unfortunately, parading newly-discovered transitional fossils before a creationist in the hope of changing their mind is like cutting corners off a poster in the hope of saving blu-tack. Where before there was only one undiscovered transitional form (between A and B), now there are two undiscovered transitional forms: one between A and C, and one between C and B.

  44. #46 Moses
    April 10, 2008

    Canned Creationist Response: Now there are TWO gaps…

  45. #47 Desruc
    April 10, 2008

    From one of Hovind’s “things that make evolutionists look stupid”:

    “Furthermore, the bones that have interpreted as remnant legs apply only to hind legs. Are they suggesting that boa constrictors walked upright with two legs and had no arms? This would make for an amusing image.”

  46. #48 Moses
    April 10, 2008

    The entertainment industry that has a stranglehold on the attention span of too many Americans is partially to blame. …

    Posted by: Aquaria | April 10, 2008 11:00 AM

    Sorry, mate, but deliberate ignorance is our philosophy, history and, apparently, our eternal condition and way-of-life as Americans. Here’s one of our “great philosophers,” and founding fathers, putting his particular spin on the anti-intellectualism that is part and parcel of the American way of life:

    A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.

    He was so learned that he could name a horse in nine languages; so ignorant that he bought a cow to ride on.

    Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.

    His name: Benjamin Franklin

    So, I think blaming Hollywood is petty scapegoating. We’ve been this way for virtually all of our European-American history and Hollywood is the reflection of us, not the cause of us.

    I could go on. There is no difficulty in picking the thread of ignorance from the tapestry of our country as it is the warp and woof.

  47. #49 David vun Kannon, FCD
    April 10, 2008

    Bwahaha, the Darwinist plan to find and resurrect Satan using “sin”-chrotron radiation is almost complete!

  48. #50 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    LOL!

  49. #51 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    LOL!

  50. #52 craig
    April 10, 2008

    “It has been an exciting week for herpetology enthusiasts like myself with the lungless frog that was (re)discovered in Indonesia and now this. Plus it almost feels like spring here in upstate NY today, soon it will be warm enough to find some local reptiles and amphibians.”

    Frogs have been singing at night for over a week here in WNY.

  51. #53 Reggie
    April 10, 2008

    Creationist excuse:

    “Snakes don’t have legs. This has legs. Therefore, it’s not a snake. It’s a lizard. This is not a transitional fossil.”

    I believe that’s their basic argument against Archaeopteryx.

  52. #54 Andreas Johansson
    April 10, 2008

    The latest word on this issue appears to be the Wonambi paper, which finds them all outside.

    Would that happen to be available online?

  53. #55 Andreas Johansson
    April 10, 2008

    @Reggie: Birds don’t have teeth. Ergo, Archie is a lizard and all the “creationists” who’ve claimed it’s a bird are satanists.

  54. #56 Ed Darrell
    April 10, 2008

    But, we have living snakes with legs. Why would anyone claim such things don’t exist?

    We have snakes, snakes with legs, legless skinks that look for all the world like snakes, skinks with atrophied legs, and skinks with four perfectly good legs. How much more “transitional” would it be possible to get?

  55. #57 ArmageddonKitten
    April 10, 2008

    Whenever a Creationist asks me, “If evolution is true, then were are the transitional forms?” I tell him to look in a mirror.

    An owl (pair?) moved into our “back yard” a couple weeks ago, signalling spring, I guess. We live right at the top of the bank of a river, and I’m guessing the owls are finding good eats down there. (Hopefully none of the stray cats…) I heard a frog croak last night, and it was downright balmy. Then again, it IS Alabama. (I’m on the Cahaba River, if anyone knows that geography.) I guess this is all proof of global warming, since I’m a hippie-neo-fascist-environmentalist-bleeding-heart-intellectual-heretic. I feel a rant coming on…

    In any case, it’s really rather pointless, as some have said, to argue with die-hard morons about transitional forms, but I suspect there might be one or two people out there in the US who would listen. As I said to a friend of mine: My contention is that change is the only thing that is consistent. Ergo, it is inevitable that environments will shift and the biological forms inhabiting them will of necessity adapt. Taken on geological timescales, therefore, there can be no such thing as a perfect biological form. It must and will change–time is of no relevance. You can zoom down and narrow in on a particular moment in time and say, “Yes, that animal is perfectly suited to its environment,” but this is only a transitory state. Sooner or later, Stephen Jay Gould (Ghouled? ;> ) will rise from the grave and bite you in the ass with some punk-ek.

    But that’s just me.

  56. #58 Bill
    April 10, 2008

    Cool!
    Nice use of the Synchrotron. The detail in the pics is awesome. I wonder if they could pull out “ghost” signatures of soft organs if the fossil is preserved well enough, like those “mummy” fossils.
    Makes me wish I’d become a paleontologist instead of a software engineer. Oh, but wait, the computed laminography is awesome too! This story gives me an all-round feeling of warm geekiness. Mmmmm.

  57. #59 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    April 10, 2008

    Most every species on the planet is either a transitional species or it is about to become extinct. It just depends on whether you are thinking of geological timespans or not.

  58. #60 ArmageddonKitten
    April 10, 2008

    #54 Canuck:

    Oh, sure, bring that whole extinction thing into it, why don’t you? Pfft. I mean, you know that unicorns and hippogryphs all died in the flood. Duh.

    But even when not thinking of geological timescales, everything is still in a transitional form. I suppose extinction is the ultimate in transitions, ne?

    “Quick impression for you: Caw! Caw! Bang! Fuck, I’m dead!”

  59. #61 SteveyD
    April 10, 2008

    Equally as awesome as a snake with limbs is that the volume on BBC News goes to 11. You see, most blokes on youtube will be playing at 10, all the way up. Where do you go from there?

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=At887GsraAQ

  60. #62 LightningRose
    April 10, 2008

    Yeah, but it ain’t no crocoduck!

  61. #63 Will Von Wizzlepig
    April 10, 2008

    Inside a block is where they found it?

    Insert joke about the “missing link” fossil being found in a block of stone many years in the future, as the vatican is being torn down.

  62. #64 BlueIndependent
    April 10, 2008

    @ #43:

    Well we could just say this legged snake obviously disproves ID, since, yes, the picture Hovind paints is indeed somewhat funny. At least we know no father entity designed such a hapless creature.

    But then they would likely trot out the “see you failed one of God’s faith tests, you evil atheist!” excuse.

  63. #65 John C. Randolph
    April 10, 2008

    Until we find the monopod snake, evolution remains in doubt. /sarcasm

    -jcr

  64. #66 Sili
    April 10, 2008

    Nice to see that the Beep is apparently getting their science reporting back in order.

  65. #67 Cephus
    April 10, 2008

    Of course, next week you’ll hear that they don’t exist too, these people don’t care about the facts, they just get in the way of their beliefs.

    After all, how long ago was it that Duane Gish was told that he was wrong about Bombadier Beetles? Did he ever stop making the claim?

  66. #68 Fire Ant
    April 10, 2008

    “Clams got legs!” Tip ‘o the hat to Johnny Hart……

  67. #69 Nick Gotts
    April 10, 2008

    Re #54 “Most every species on the planet is either a transitional species or it is about to become extinct.”

    Including H. sapiens. Bets on which?

  68. #70 slang
    April 10, 2008

    #32

    I’d like to suggest that evolutionists under use the existence of LIVING transitional forms in their responses to creationists.

    Every living being is a LIVING transitional form. Every living being is part of a species. Every species is transitional. It just isn’t always obvious, based on visible features. This is why you see people like PBH on pandasthumb searching so desperately for something like a “species lock”, which of course they won’t find unless evolution is falsified.

  69. #71 mothra
    April 10, 2008

    A few years ago I did the now standard bombardier beetle chemical experiment before a live seminar audience. The mixture failed to explode ad Duane Gish (and other creos’) predicted. The creationists in the crowd insisted I was using the wrong chemicals. Creationist statements are like mythical hydras- you cut off one stalk where a head should have grown and another two stalks grow.

  70. #72 mothra
    April 10, 2008

    Minor correction: A few years ago I did the now standard bombardier beetle chemical experiment before a live seminar audience. The mixture failed to explode as Duane Gish (and other creos’) predicted that it should. The creationists in the crowd insisted I was using the wrong chemicals. Creationist statements are like mythical hydras- you cut off one stalk where a head should have grown and another two stalks grow.

  71. #73 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    Would that happen to be available online?

    Would surprise me, but try Google Scholar…

    I have the paper in the lab and will try to post the abstract and the tree tomorrow.

  72. #74 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 10, 2008

    Would that happen to be available online?

    Would surprise me, but try Google Scholar…

    I have the paper in the lab and will try to post the abstract and the tree tomorrow.

  73. #75 bob
    April 10, 2008

    Oh man. Snakes with legs are old hat. Mike Caldwell from the University of Alberta in Canada found them way back in 1997

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v386/n6626/abs/386705a0.html

  74. #76 John Scanlon, FCD
    April 10, 2008

    You can find links to some fossil snake papers by clicking on my name. The Wonambi one (Scanlon and Lee 2000, in Nature) is now freely downloadable, but the one on Yurlunggur with updated phylogenetic analysis (Scanlon 2006, same journal) isn’t yet. Email me (riversleigh at outbackatisa dot com dot au) if you want a copy (or wait ‘a couple of weeks’ when the ISP says I’ll be able to link to attachments, at last).
    In short, snakes with hind legs are really neat transitional forms occurring at just the time and place they could have been predicted (mid-Cretaceous, in the sea) based on the close relationship between snakes and mosasauroids. All snakes lack forelimbs and shoulder girdles (whether or not this has anything to do with the different Hox expression, which can’t be observed in fossils), but there are also very snake-like fossils that do have forelimbs: they occur in the same deposits as the earliest snakes, and we call them ‘dolichosaurs’. The number of ‘gaps’ in the transitional series is getting larger and larger, but the size of the gaps gets smaller and smaller.
    The idea that the legs in Eupodophis etc. are evolutionary reversals is not intrinsically stupid, but depends on the skull morphology of Pachyrhachis, Haasiophis and Eupodophis being rather imaginatively reconstructed by some workers as similar to recent groups such as pythons; this appears to be wrong.
    The most exciting thing about the work announced today is that it’s now possible to do CT on bones within a slab of limestone, whereas this has been impossible before (lack of contrast between one Calcium mineral and another). So many great fossils are preserved in limestone, this is a huge advance for all vertebrate palaeo.

  75. #77 John Scanlon, FCD
    April 10, 2008

    And another thing. This isn’t the only known specimen of Eupodophis, and hasn’t been for years now. Check this out (only the cover).

    I’d like to see this synchrotron method used to reconstruct a few skulls and vertebrae, not just redundant legs.

  76. #78 Damian
    April 10, 2008

    John Scanlon, FCD:

    Thank you very much for that paper. I will read it with great interest.

    I could be way off (it has been known), but I have a vague memory of a reptile that now lives exclusively underground, and that it seems to be in the process of losing its limbs. I have tried to look for it, and it is entirely possible that it is a figment of my over-active imagination, but I was wondering if you had any idea what I am talking about?

    Thanks once again for the paper, John.

  77. #79 John Scanlon, FCD
    April 10, 2008

    Hi Damian,
    limb reduction and elongation of the body and/or tail to attain a more or less cylindrical, ‘serpentiform’ shape has occurred many, many times in vertebrates. Living examples include eels, pipefish, lungfish, caecilians, and many groups of lizards (amphisbaenians, pygopod geckoes, dibamids, various groups of skinks, anguids, gerrhosaurs, etc.), and even a couple of mammal groups tend in that direction (weasels and some whales). Sometimes associated with burrowing, but sometimes grass-swimming, foraging in crevices, or open-water swimming. Have a look at Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology blog for surveys of diversity in some of these groups. Thanks to evolution, the world is richer and stranger than you (or a god) could imagine.

  78. #80 sfast
    April 10, 2008

    Oh My! That is really a cool find for the evolutionists, another paragraph in the tale. However, earlier comments about the serpent forced to crawl on its belly, and I can think of several other ‘useful’ arguments for creationists, such as, how the serpent ‘stood’ in front of Eve, are a gross representation of the ignorance of the general religious populace. Even though I’ve never heard it voiced (which certainly doesn’t mean it hasn’t been), that argument could easily be resolved by the creationists through the varieties of snakes capable of rising off the ground at a height that is nearly equal to their length. However, the word ‘stood’ commonly expresses the concept of the presence of legs.

    I think it is cool that they found this. Unfortunately, it is one that is adaptable to both sides of the argument, as I am sure the majority of finds – past, present, and future – can be adapted to the (uhmph!) ‘theory’ of creationism if they put their never-ending imaginations to work. It would be positively awesome if they could find something – anything – that would shut the creationists up forever! I keep hoping.

  79. #81 amphiox
    April 10, 2008

    #65 Every living being is a LIVING transitional form.

    Agreed. The only exceptions are those unfortunate forms that have been intelligently designed by some supposedly benevolent creator to be perfectly adapted to their environment. Those ones are doomed to extinction since the environment changes.

    #52 If evolution is true, then were are the transitional forms?” I tell him to look in a mirror.

    Good old H.sap is an excellent example of a transitional form IMHO. Spine adapted for bipedal locomotion, but still in transition from a quadripedal precursor and susceptible to back pain. Wisdom teeth retained from a bigger jawed ancestor, now useless and downright dangerous, even potentially fatal without modern dentistry. Birth canal just barely wide enough to deliver a fetus with a recently evolved big brain, resulting, before modern medicine, in a shockingly high rate of maternal and fetal mortality (what more maladaptive trait can a mammal have from an evolutionary perspective?) And a complex brain capable of rational thought and stupendously adaptive problem solving, yet prone to gullible deference to authority figures, a trait that might have been protective back in the day when tribal elders declared the danger of sabretooth cats, but which in the modern world exposes its possessor to relentless ridicule on science blogs.

    The giant panda, with a vegetarian diet but a carnivorous digestive tract, and a that nifty thumb, would be another great example.

    #59 But then they would likely trot out the “see you failed one of God’s faith tests, you evil atheist!” excuse.

    I’ve said it before, but any god who demands capricious tests of faith like that isn’t worthy of worship even if he did exist. In fact, if a god of that nature did exist, it should be fought and opposed at every turn as a moral and ethical imperative.

  80. #82 wazza
    April 11, 2008

    I wouldn’t say that being ridiculed on science blogs is maladaptive, as such…

    I dare say some people find it sexy.

  81. #83 ArmageddonKitten
    April 11, 2008

    #75:

    I had to have my wisdom teeth out at 20. I can attest that getting rid of 4 superfluous teeth would be a great boon to (wo)mankind.

    Also, I wanted to address your last paragraph. It has always been my contention (as an atheistic Buddhist-wannabe) that any god who would create a world with the potential (certainty, if the god is omniscient) for suffering (id est evil) is him/her/itself evil de facto. And if God turns out to be real (Hah!) then I am going to be sitting on the left hand with the goats, fighting the GOOD fight. Nice to meet a fellow warrior /against/ god.

    #73:

    As an owner of ferrets, I can tell you that those little fragile limbs are a fabulous adaptation! Do you know that they tunnel fight with those things? They’ll bear teeth at each other with open mouths ready for biting ears and faces and use their paws to try to fend off the other offending weasel. See-through tunnels are the best ferret toy ever. ;)

    Mind you, they’re domesticated ferrets that have been spayed and thus are in a perpetual juvenile state, but the evidence is clear. Those legs might not seem like much, but I see them used for fighting, grabbing, holding, “egg gathering” (rolling round objects between the forelimbs while walking backwards), climbing, the famous Weasel War Dance, jumping… and sometimes landing awkwardly with a sickening crunch. Okay, so they have trouble with landing maneuvers.

    ($1000 and 2 surgical steel pins later, our little girl ferret had all three arm bones mended back together thanks to the best exotic vet this side of the Mason-Dixon line. The beastie now has arthritis in both elbows, but I suppose that’s what you get for climbing the 5′ cage and missing your mark.)

    Point is: I wonder if those “useless” hind limbs of our Snake of the Week were really so useless. That tail is an awful long way away, and maybe the back legs served to keep their butts in check while they were navigating reefs or ocean floor. Perhaps they served as an adjunct to an incompletely co-evolved CNS? Maybe they helped the snake anchor in crevaces. I can easily picture a horizontal striking motion with the legs used as an anchor for fast retraction into a crevace. No telling what kind of use you could put those apparently articulated limbs to.

    God knows (excuse me for saying so) that ferret legs have a hard time keeping ferret butts going in the right direction, but they can and will launch off of the floor and wrap around your knee given enough playful provocation. ;)

    P.S. One of our cats was “raised” by ferrets, and she has a tendency to fight with her arms in a very non-cat-like fashion. She can also use the upside-down weasel take-down maneuver… Fascinating, really!

  82. #84 Salt
    April 11, 2008

    Snake with legs. Cool. Eve was tempted by a serpent, whom God then declared would henceforth crawl on its belly. [Guess it must have had locomotion by other means.]

    No wonder it lost its legs, and probably arms too. Didn’t need them any more.

    Any more questions?

    [ stirs pot ;) ]

  83. #85 Nick Gotts
    April 11, 2008

    John Scanlon “Thanks to evolution, the world is richer and stranger than you (or a god) could imagine.”

    Dougal Dixon has a good try with his “Zoology of the Future”.
    This includes a “sand shark”, descended from rats, which has a serpentine body but strong forelimbs with which it “swims” through desert sands. However, my favourite is the “Night Stalker”, a blind, flightless carnivore descended from bats which reached a new island before any birds. It walks on its forelimbs, while its strongly-clawed hindlimbs hang forwards over its shoulders and are used to catch prey. It screams in order to use sonar to find the prey.

  84. #86 Peter Ashby
    April 11, 2008

    Creationists will never be convinced by transitional fossils, not because they just see more gaps but because their worldview still includes the idea of an essential type. A cow is a cow because it has the essence of cowness, it cannot be a sheep because it would have to somehow aquire the essence of sheepness in one fell swoop. Now viewed like that evolution makes no sense because species jumps obviously cannot happen, the bar is too high.

    Now few creationists can articulate that objection, yet that is the essence (deliberate pun) of their objection. In their defence our culture is still infused with the concept.

    To accept evolution a creationist therefore has to first lose the adherence to this concept. To this end I think the idea of ring species is a far more useful teaching tool when debating with cdesign propentitists than transitional fossils. I particularly like Dawkin’s point that we constitute a ring species with chimps and bonobos, it is just that most members of it are no longer extant, but there is still a chain of interbreeding individuals between me and a chimp that is, in principle knowable.

  85. #87 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 11, 2008

    Oops, yes, I meant the Yurlunggur paper.

    Wisdom teeth retained from a bigger jawed ancestor, now useless and downright dangerous, even potentially fatal without modern dentistry.

    That depends. Mine are coming out vertically, and there’s just space for them (even though my lower incisors are a bit crammed); they promise not to cause the slightest trouble, and I’ll be able to put the extra chewing surface to good use.

    <duck & cover to escape the burning envy>

  86. #88 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 11, 2008

    Oops, yes, I meant the Yurlunggur paper.

    Wisdom teeth retained from a bigger jawed ancestor, now useless and downright dangerous, even potentially fatal without modern dentistry.

    That depends. Mine are coming out vertically, and there’s just space for them (even though my lower incisors are a bit crammed); they promise not to cause the slightest trouble, and I’ll be able to put the extra chewing surface to good use.

    <duck & cover to escape the burning envy>

  87. #89 ArmageddonKitten
    April 12, 2008

    #81:

    Say, David? Wait a few years. They’ll be yanking those puppies on you so fast your head will spin (sometimes quite literally). I hope you have an excellent toothbrush, good natural defense, lots of dental floss, and a mouth that opens really wide… With “just enough” space for them to come in, that may not leave any space for you to /clean/ them. ;)

    My back molars, devoid of wisdom teeth, are now reachable for cleaning, including flossing and brushing with the tip of a toothbrush. Look, ma, no cavities!

    I suggest daily flossing. ;)

    Wow, just imagine if god hadn’t invented dental floss. O.o

  88. #90 John Scanlon, FCD
    April 12, 2008

    I also have all of my ancestral molars, fully functional; I guess that makes me a transitional form. It can’t be very uncommon, I was at the dentist the other day and they didn’t seem all that impressed. Did get a bit of gum infection while they were erupting; salt water and vigorous brushing were effective when amoxicillin failed (and that was 20 years ago). Can’t say that I personally know anyone else with wisdom teeth, but it doesn’t always come up in conversation.

  89. #91 Nick Gotts
    April 12, 2008

    I still have my wisdom teeth – and I’m 53 and BRITISH! ;-)

  90. #92 keith
    April 12, 2008

    This is trivial compared to the living fossils of people without gonads or brains..they’re called evolutionary nutbags.

    And then Dick and Jane became War and Peace by stochastically rearranging the letters of the text. Tolstoy was a creationist who was actually illiterate.

    Darwin and Al Gore invented the evonet.

    April 18th.. The Great Awakening

  91. #93 wazza
    April 12, 2008

    Keith, I… what?

    Dick and Jane can’t become War and Peace by rearranging the text, there aren’t enough letters…

    I guess if you started introducing random mutations and selected for readability you might get to one of the great novels, though probably not War and Peace. I speak as one who has read it and lived to regret it.

  92. #94 Kseniya
    April 12, 2008

    April 18th.. The Big Yawn.

    I’m disturbed by Keith’s lack of progress.

  93. #95 wazza
    April 12, 2008

    I’m not

    Teh Stoopid is strong in this one.

  94. #96 blf
    April 12, 2008

    … the living fossils of people without gonads or brains..they’re called evolutionary nutbags.

    Aren’t people without brains normally dead?

    Curious just what the definition of an “evolutionary nutbag” is, I did a quick search. That phrase wasn’t found. The two words “evolution” and “nutbag” were used on the same page c.12500 times. The first page results tended to be for things like “anti-evolution nutbags” and “creationist nutbags”. I would guess the above-quoted comment is a case of projection–”a defense mechanism by which your own traits and emotions are attributed to someone else”.

  95. #97 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 12, 2008

    With “just enough” space for them to come in, that may not leave any space for you to /clean/ them. ;)

    Yes — but this also means that hardly anything can ever get between them in the first place! On all of the rare occasions when I floss the non-space between my first and second molars, it turns out to have been clean. =8-)

  96. #98 David Marjanovi?, OM
    April 12, 2008

    With “just enough” space for them to come in, that may not leave any space for you to /clean/ them. ;)

    Yes — but this also means that hardly anything can ever get between them in the first place! On all of the rare occasions when I floss the non-space between my first and second molars, it turns out to have been clean. =8-)

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