Graphic from PLoS One article Predation upon Hatchling Dinosaurs by a New Snake from the Late Cretaceous of India
If you're a Cretaceous snake, and you've got a deep down hunger, you could do a lot worse than visit the local nesting ground and eat a baby sauropod. A new article in PLoS One describes a fossil which seems to depict just such an occurrence.
The title of this post sacrifices accuracy for a really stinky pop culture reference. This is in keeping with our stringent editorial guidelines here at LITC. To set the record straight, this nesting site was almost surely not on a plain. Here's why.
Whenever a fossil like this is found - seemingly preserving an interaction between two animals, a hearty dollop of skepticism is proper. There's a certain morbid romance to the thought that we're looking at the dramatic final moments of two animals, but there are many forces which could fool us into thinking this. Did the deaths occur at the same place, but at different times? Were the bones transported to the site by natural forces? Lead author Daniel Wilson believes that this is not the case, for four reasons.
- The remains of three other similar snakes were found near sauropod eggs, suggesting this was a common way they shopped for food.
- The way the snake curves around the eggs makes it more plausible that the snake was actually doing just that, rather than having been transported there post-mortem.
- The preservation of fine detail suggests a quick burial in deep sediment in a catastrophic event such as a mudslide rather than a slow burial in slowly settling sediment.
- Analysis of the sediment shows that the site was next to a hill which would have been a perfect source for such mudslides, probably coinciding with relatively common rainstorms.
Neat freakin' fossil! The standard mythology of dinosaurs is that they were the ruled the world like Olympian gods, and the "lesser mortals" like small mammals and reptiles could only quiver in the shadows. But when a snake's got to eat, a baby titanosaur would be easy pickings. This poor son of a gun was inches from a scrumptious lunch when a ton of mud fell on his head. Crummy luck, brother.