Mid-Cretaceous (Cenomanian) snakes from Wadi Abu Hashim, Sudan: the earliest snake assemblage

Rage, J C
Werner, C
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Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research
The Cenomanian (mid-Cretaceous) beds at Wadi Abu Hashim (Sudan) have yielded a snake assemblage that is very rich and diverse for its geological age. It is by far the oldest known snake fauna. As the assignment of the hitherto earliest presumed snake (Barremian) to the Serpentes may now be questioned, this diverse fauna is only slightly younger than the earliest certain appearance of snakes (late Albian). The fauna is a surprising mixture of very primitive and comparatively advanced snakes. It includes two forms belonging to the lapparentophiid-grade of snakes (‘ lapparentophiid-grade snake A ’ and ‘ lapparentophiid-grade snake B ’), an indeterminate Madtsoiidae, a possible Palaeophiidae, the aniliid Coniophis dabiebus sp. nov., Coniophis cf. C. dabiebus, the nigerophiid Nubianophis afaahus gen. et sp. nov., Nubianophis cf. N. afaahus, the russellophiid Krebsophis thobanus gen. et sp. nov., a Colubroidea incertae sedis (indeterminate family), and two indeterminate snakes. In sum, at least nine species, perhaps twelve, are present. They represent at least seven families: at least one family of lapparentophiid-grade (?Lapparentophiidae), Madtsoiidae, ?Palaeophiidae, Aniliidae, Nigerophiidae, Russellophiidae, and an indeterminate colubroid family. The presence of colubroid snakes (Russellophiidae and an indeterminate family) as early as the mid-Cretaceous is especially unexpected. It may be inferred from phylogenies that the higher taxa of snakes (Anilioidea, Booidea, Acrochordoidea, Colubroidea, and obviously Scolecophidia) were already present during mid-Cretaceous times. The diversity of this fauna, coupled with the presence of advanced forms (colubroids), suggest that the origin of snakes markedly antedates the Cenomanian. Africa played an important role in the early radiation and, probably, in the origin of snakes.
Cenomanian, earliest radiation, snakes, Sudan