Discovery of Winged Serpent Fossils in Tennessee

Image: Steve Jasinski

Scientists have recently uncovered a new species of snake from out of the fossils of hundreds of bones — with wing-like protrusions. 

The sinkhole known as the Gray Fossil Site located near East Tennessee State University is one of the richest fossil sites in the country. This was the first official survey of snake fossils at this site and the discoveries abounded.

A new species was distinguished by the wing-like protrusions on the sides of its vertebrate, although the animal did not have the ability to fly. Researchers named the snake Zilantophis schuberti, or Schubert’s Winged Serpent.

This new species was the width of a pointer finger and measured a little over a foot in length. Researchers believe it is most closely related to rat snakes and kingsnakes. It was thought to have lived amidst fallen leaf litter and fed on fish or small insects.

Zilantophis dates back five million years, during a time when the climate was altering the planet.

Wing-like projections. Image: University of Pennsylvania

“This is a time when the world was moving in the direction of a modern climate and modern fauna,” reported lead author of the study Steve Jasinski to the Daily Mail.

At the time, the area was primarily forested, but in the process of undergoing a massive transition to grassland habitat. This new species along with all of the fossilized remains provide a prominent picture of the biodiversity that persisted during that period.

The full study is published in the Journal of Herpetology.

“Snakes are important parts of their ecosystems, both today and in the past,” Jasinski stated to Live Science. “Every fossil helps tell a story, and all those pieces of evidence give scientists a clearer picture of the past, as well as tools to predict how living communities may respond to changes in the future.”

Watch one of the species’ relatives, the king snake, take on a rattlesnake in this video: