200mn-yr-old fossils reveal how snakes’ syringe-like venom fangs evolvedNovember 19th, 2010 - 5:12 pm ICT by ANI
London, Nov 19 (ANI): Scientists are analysing fossils of a 200 million-year-old reptile of the late Triassic period to understand how syringe-like teeth evolved in snakes that exist today.
Although not closely related to snakes, Uatchitodon’s hollow fangs suggest it was venomous.
The roots of its teeth suggest that the animal is more closely related to dinosaurs and alligators than to modern snakes, but the ‘hypodermic needle’ structures found in many specimens are remarkably similar to snake fangs and probably followed a similar evolutionary path.
Uatchitodon fossils are found at three major locations: Tomahawk in Virginia, Moncure in North Carolina and the Placerias Quarry in Arizona.
Jonathan Mitchell at the University of Chicago in Illinois, and his colleagues analysed Uatchitodon teeth and found that the fossils from Tomahawk had grooves instead of fully developed tubes.
In the oldest fossils from Tomahawk, the venom canal was a shallow groove, extending from the base of the tooth less than a quarter of the way to the tip. Later teeth from the site had a longer and deeper groove.
In specimens from Moncure and the Placerias Quarry, the groove had become all but sealed in, with just a hair-like seam to mark it, creating a canal that could convey venom once the tooth had pierced the skin - suggesting that the tubes in the teeth of Uatchitodon had evolved from grooves.
The progression seen in the Uatchitodon teeth is very similar to the development of snake replacement fangs, in which early-stage fangs form a groove, and late-stage fangs are tubular.
“This fossil really suggests that you can’t get hollow fangs any other way,” Nature quoted herpetologist Wolfgang Wuster at Bangor University, UK, as saying.
According to him, this progression makes sense because Gila-style grooved teeth would benefit animals even in the initial evolutionary stages. For alternative possible methods of producing a fang, such as boring a tube straight through a tooth, this would not be the case.
However, Wuster said that finding Uatchitodon jaws would be important to check whether specimens with hollow fangs - but not those with grooved teeth - had compressor muscles that could squirt venom into prey.
“A syringe without a plunger is pretty useless, so I’d love to get a look at the jaws.”
The research is reported in the journal Naturwissenschaften. (ANI)
- 'Venom from snakes could save lives too' - Sep 20, 2012
- Ancient reptiles too had oral infections - Apr 19, 2011
- First poisonous dino discovered in China dates back to 128 million years - Dec 22, 2009
- Fangs evolving from teeth helped snakes spread worldwide - Aug 04, 2008
- Teeth took 400m yrs to evolve to allow us to eat the way we do today - Sep 19, 2010
- Long-sought fossil mammal with transitional middle ear found in China - Apr 14, 2011
- Archaeologists Discover Whale Eating Whale Fossil In Peru - Jul 01, 2010
- Hundreds of fossils found outside Argentina's capital - Apr 20, 2012
- 55mn-yr-old horse fossils indicate 'you are what you eat' - Mar 04, 2011
- New fossil material reveals Azendohsaurus as an early reptile, not a dinosaur - May 19, 2010
- Cop pulls woman from jaws of her 8-foot pet python in US - Apr 17, 2011
- Why one should never arm-wrestle a saber-toothed tiger - Jul 03, 2010
- PETA to snake charmers: Use fake snakes on Nag Panchami - Jul 20, 2012
- Tiny fossil part reveals biggest-ever toothed pterosaur - Oct 16, 2011
- Fossilized primitive pregnant lizard found in China - Jul 21, 2011
Tags: alligators, bangor university, dinosaurs, fossils, herpetologist, hollow fangs, hypodermic needle, jonathan mitchell, moncure, quarry, reptile, seam, shallow groove, snake fangs, snakes, specimens, syringe, triassic period, venom, wuster