Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Dinosaur-eating snake discovered

snake eating dinosaur
Reconstruction of the snake attacking a freshly hatched sauropod

Scientists say they have identified the fossilised remains of a snake that dined on dinosaur eggs.

The 67-million-year-old skeleton was found in a dinosaur nest.

The study, published in the journal Plos Biology, is said to show the first direct evidence of feeding behaviour in a fossilised primitive snake.

This 3.5m fossil snake is believed to have fed on the hatchlings of sauropods, as it was found wrapped around a baby titanosaur.

Fully grown, the plant-eating titanosaurs weighed up to 100 tonnes. Many people have a fear of snakes and this research indicates that even giant dinosaurs may have been scared of them, too.

"It was such a thrill to discover such a portentous moment frozen in time," said Dr Dhananjay Mohabey from the Geological Survey of India, who unearthed the fossil.

Experts at the University of Michigan and University of Toronto Mississauga studied and identified the find.

Ancient gape

According to researchers, the fossil would have lacked the mobile jaws of modern snakes and would have struggled to eat dinosaur eggs. However, the hatchlings of these dinosaurs would have been just the right size.

The fossil was first uncovered in India in 1987 but it was not until 2001 that American scientists were able to detect that there was a snake among the dinosaur eggshells.

The researchers now believe that the snake was attacking a hatchling that had just emerged from the egg. The event was then overcome by a natural disaster, possibly a storm, and the whole scene was frozen in time.

The snake, one of the few animals that preyed on giant dinosaurs, has been named Sanajeh indicus, meaning "ancient gaped one from India" in Sanskrit.

Scale bar 5cm
Fossil of Sanajeh indicus, three sauropod eggs and a sauropod hatchling

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