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.
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.
World's Oldest Python Fossil
The python fossil was found at Messel Fossil Pit, near Frankfurt, Germany which was once an oil shale mine and almost became a garbage dump in the 1970s. But since many fossils were discovered in the area, it has become a UNESCO site by 1995. Some fossils found there were a pregnant mare, mating turtles, and shimmering beetles.
According to the report, 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.
"This is one of the most exciting and intriguing aspects of the discovery of Messelopython," said study co-researcher Hussam Zaher.
Boa Constrictors and Pythons Living Separately in Modern World
Bos constrictors used to live in Europe during the early Paleogene period that lasted from 66 million to 23 million years ago, but it is now clear that they have co-existed with the pythons in that continent. However, this knowledge has raised many questions about how could these two "direct ecological competitors" have coexisted, said Zaher.
Smith said that it is important to "revisit the thesis that these two groups of snakes competed with each other, making them unable to share the same habitats."
According to Phys.org, the pythons subsequently disappeared in Europe for quite some time and did not appear again until the Milocene. But as the climate began to cool again, the pythons have once again disappeared in the European continent.
Both researchers noted that finding the answer as to how pythons and boa constrictors coexist should be done by finding more early python and boa fossils, and take a look at how these two snake species coexist in southern Florida as invasive species.
They published their paper online in the journal Biology Letters.
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