Snake with Four Legs Really a Dino-Era Lizard “Four-Legged Snake

You might hear about the most famous ‘Four-Legged Snake’ which is actually a Be Dino-Era Lizard.

The surprising fossil can not be a snake after all, and it might have come to the scientists’ attention under troubling circumstances.

The strange-looking fossil was hailed as a once-in-a-lifetime find: a rare snapshot of the way snakes evolved from four-legged lizards. But barely more than a year after it was unveiled, a fresh look at the animal suggests that it is no snake.


Perhaps even more troubling, the fossil may have first reached scientists’ hands under unethical—and possibly illegal—circumstances.

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Originally, the 110-million-year-old fossil known as Tetrapodophis was interpreted to be a burrowing snake with two pairs of small limbs, potentially showing that snakes started out on land. If true, the six-inch-long animal would bring clarity to the scientific debate over whether snakes lost their limbs on land—the current favorite hypothesis—or in water.

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The new reanalysis instead suggests that Tetrapodophis could be the oldest known dolichosaur, an extinct type of aquatic lizard that lived during the Cretaceous period. If it’s not a snake, the evolutionary waters get that much muddier. (Also see an amazing “nesting doll” fossil that reveals a bug in a lizard in a snake.)

“It doesn’t have to be a snake to be cool—it’s a very interesting thing all by itself,” says Mike Caldwell of the University of Alberta, who co-authored the latest analysis. “A four-legged snake will be really cool, and we will find one. But this one isn’t.”

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