Snake fangs from the Lower Miocene of Germany: evolutionary stability of perfect weapons.Naturwissenschaften 2006; 93(2):84-7N
There is a general consensus that most of today's nonvenomous snakes are descendants of venomous snakes that lost their venomous capabilities secondarily. This implies that the evolutionary history of venomous snakes and their venom apparatus should be older than the current evidence from the fossil record. We compared some of the oldest-known fossil snake fangs from the Lower Miocene of Germany with those of modern viperids and elapids and found their morphology to be indistinguishable from the modern forms. The primary function of recent elapid and viperid snake fangs is to facilitate the extremely rapid, stab-like application of highly toxic venoms. Our findings therefore indicate that the other components of the venom-delivery system of Early Miocene vipers and elapids were also highly developed, and that these snakes used their venom in the same way as their modern relatives. Thus, the fossil record supports the view that snakes used their venoms to rapidly subdue prey long before the mid-Tertiary onset of the global environmental changes that seem to have supported the successful radiation of venomous snakes.