Fossilised remains of an ancient winged snake have been discovered from a five million-year-old sinkhole at Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee.
The sinkhole has unearthed hundreds of snake bones along with this unique fossil, which belongs to a new species of snake known as Schubert's Winged Serpent, which is scientifically named Zilantophis schuberti. This snake existed around five million years ago.
Paleontologists Steven Jasinski and David Moscato were the ones to discover this snake fossil.
The snake was named Schubert in honour of Blaine Schubert, who is the executive director of East Tennessee State's Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology. He was also the adviser of Jasinski and Moscato when they studied there, Seeker reported.
Further findings revealed that the snake would be around 30 to 40 centimetres (12 to 16 inches) long and lacked actual wings, hence it couldn't fly. The fossil had wing-shaped projections present on the sides of the vertebrae, which the researchers think were probably attachment sites for the serpent's back muscles.
"When we first saw them, we knew they were unusual, but the feeling wasn't so much, 'Eureka!' as it was, 'What the heck is this?'" Seeker quoted Moscato as saying.
"Before we could be sure this was something new, we had to look at just about every similar species of snake we could think of, alive or extinct," he added.
The researchers believe that insects, worms, small amphibians as well as tiny fishes were part of this winged snake's diet. Kingsnakes as well as rat snakes are believed to be closely related to this new-found species.
"The snakes' vertebrae are significant to the classification of the creatures' fossils. He further said that snakes do not have legs or arms. On the other hand, they have high numbers of vertebrae. He added that these are often the bones that scientists use to determine the fossil snakes," Jasinski added.
The winged serpent lived five million years ago: