Tetrapodophis amplectus: Four-Legged Hugging-Snake of Northeast Brazil

by DerdriuMarriner

Tetrapodophis amplectus is Drs Nicholas Longrich’s, David Martill’s, and Helmut Tischlinger’s name for a four-legged hugging-snake of northeast Brazil.

Four-legged hugging-snakes snag, squeeze, and swallow smaller animals

Scientists ask each other whether snakes are descended from marine or terrestrial lizards.

The answer begs for prehistoric lizards and present-day snakes the missing link equivalency of Archaeopteryx (ancient feather, ancient wing) between ancient dinosaurs and modern birds. It considers a possible candidate in the fortuitous viewing by visiting paleobiologist, Dr. David M. Martill, from the University of Portsmouth, England, of an unidentified fossil at the Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum of Solnhofen in Bavaria, southeast Germany.

As a result, on-line images and information since June 24, 2015 describe Tetrapodophis amplectus (four-footed hugging-snake) as a claw-fingered, claw-toed, fang-toothed, flex-jawed, flex-spined, four-legged, land-dwelling, long-trunked, meat-eating, scale-bellied, short-snouted, short-tailed, small-headed, ten-fingered, ten-toed reptile from the fossil-rich Crato Formation of Araripe Basin, northeast Brazil.




Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum: site of limestone slab with serpentine fossil described and named by paleobiologist Dr. David Martill as Tetrapodophis amplectus.

Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, Solnhofen, Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern), southeastern Germany
Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, Solnhofen, Free State of Bavaria (Freistaat Bayern), southeastern Germany

Four-legged hugging-snakes terrify through claws, constriction, curved teeth


The profile of Tetrapodophis amplectus emerges as that of a reptile whose distribution range, life cycle, and natural history straddle the ancient spaces and prehistoric times of:

  • the Cretaceous (chalk bed-filled) Period of 66,000,000 to 145,000,000 years ago;
  • the supercontinent Gondwana (forest of the Gond peoples) whose Southern Hemisphere domination ends with ultimate separation into today’s continents of Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America and sub-continent of India.

It furnishes no direct answers as to its status less as a lizard and more as a snake -- or vice versa -- in terms of its native bio-geography. The limestone-rich Crato Formation instead gives insights into:

  • crustaceans;
  • insects;
  • magnolia family, one seed-leaf, and two seed-leaf flora;
  • scorpions, spiders. 


Crato Formation, location of fossil Tetrapodophis amplectus, occurs on northern flanks of Chapada do Araripe (Araripe Plateau):

view of Chapada do Araripe from city of Crato, namesake of Crato Formation
Ceará state, northeastern Brazil
Ceará state, northeastern Brazil

Four-legged hugging-snakes unite serpentine scales, snouts, tails, trunks


Paleontologists and taxonomists nevertheless have an extraordinary specimen whose preservation is exceptional. The fossil is missing some skull parts. But the extant parts of the 7.8-inch (19.81-centimeter) specimen join:

  • body elongated, with 160 vertebrae and pelvic indications;
  • braincase elongated;
  • snout abbreviated;
  • stomach filled with salamander remnants;
  • tail short, with 112 vertebrae and without paddle shape typical of swimmers;
  • teeth backward-curved;
  • tissues softened for functioning as trachea and in single row of belly scales;
  • 2 feet, each with 5 clawed toes;
  • 2 hands, each with 5 clawed fingers whose last digits elongate for grasping;
  • 2 lower limbs, each 0.28 inches (7 millimeters) long;
  • 2 upper limbs, each 0.16 inches (5 millimeters) long and including tiny elbows and wrists.  


Four-Legged Snakes Existed Millions Of Years Ago

Published on YouTube on July 24, 2015 by GeoBeats News ~ URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wtk6jGc5Ko

Four-legged hugging-snakes value eyelidlessness, interior ears, long braincases


Brazilian challenges to provenance and peer review of taxonomy keep Tetropodophis amplectus noteworthy. Legislation from 1942 leads Brazilian National Department of Mineral Production (Departamento Nacional de Produção Mineral) staff to question whether the 100,000,000- to 113,000,000-year-old Albian Age fossil has mandatory government pre-approval for removal from Brazil. Sorting descent from land- or water-dwelling lizards moves scientists to approve, counter or expand classifications and descriptions formalized in July 2015 by paleontologists Nicholas Longrich, David Martill, and Helmut Tischlinger.

Twenty-first century regulatory accords, scientific advances, and technological breakthroughs narrow which emergence -- Gondwana’s continental or Tethys’ (from the ancient Greek word Τηθύς [tḗthē, grandmother]) marine fauna -- describes Tetrapodophis amplectus, whose serpentine status involves anatomy and skull, not limblessness. 


The Crato Fossil Beds of Brazil: Window into an Ancient World by David M. Martill, Günter Bechly, and Robert F. Loveridge ~ Available now via Amazon

Breakthrough volume which formalized Crato Formation as a formal type locality, distinct from much younger (10 Mya) Santana Formation ~ Beautifully illustrated with expert coverage of wide range of invertebrates and vertebrates.
Crato Formation books



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


The Palaeontological Association Field Guide to Fossils No. 5: Fossils of the Santana and Crato Formations, Brazil by David M. Martill ~ Available now via Amazon

Crato Formation

Sources Consulted


ANI. 24 July 2015. “Newly Discovered ‘Four-legged’ Fossil Sheds Light on Snakes’ Evolution.” Yahoo! News India > Tech. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ https://in.news.yahoo.com/newly-discovered-four-legged-fossil-sheds-light-snakes-104217651.html

Bednar, Chuck. 24 July 2015. “Researchers Discover Fossil of Four-legged Snake.” The Daily Orbit > Natural Science. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://thedailyorbit.com/researchers-discover-fossils-of-four-legged-snake-072415/

Cameron, Charley. 27 July 2015. “Four-legged Prehistoric Snake Offers Clues about the Reptile’s Evolution.” Inhabitat. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://inhabitat.com/four-legged-prehistoric-snake-offers-clues-about-the-reptiles-evolution/

Christakou, Anastasia. 23 July 2015. “Four-legged Fossil Snake is a World First.” Nature > News & Comment > News > 2015 > July > Article. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://0-www.nature.com.ils.sidra.org/news/four-legged-fossil-snake-is-a-world-first-1.18050

Crown, Alex. 24 July 2015. “Four-legged Snake Fossil Discovered.” Lidtime > World News. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.lidtime.com/four-legged-snake-fossil-discovered-8385/

Engelking, Carl. 24 July 2015. “Four-legged Snake Ancestor Dug Burrows with Tiny Limbs.” Discover > Blogs > D-brief. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/d-brief/2015/07/24/four-legged-snake/#.VcjIuSiWE5Q

Festante, Jim. 26 July 2015. “A Snake with Arms.” The Slate Group LLC > Video > Slate in Motion. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.slate.com/articles/video/video/2015/07/snake_arms_tetrapodophis_amplectus_fossil_discovery_shows_lizard_snake_ancestor.html

“Four-legged Fossil Holds Secret of Snake’s Slithering Origins." New Scientist: News > Life > Daily News. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27949-four-legged-fossil-holds-secret-of-snakes-slithering-origins/

“A Four-legged Fossil of Snake Provides Insights into Snake Evolution.” Editage Insights > Plant and Animal Science > 25 July 2015. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.editage.com/insights/a-four-legged-fossil-of-snake-provides-insights-into-snake-evolution

“Four-legged Fossil Suggests Snakes Evolved from Burrowing Ancestors." Eurekalert! > Public Releases. Retrieved August 2015.

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“The Four-legged Hugging Snake.” BBC World Service > Science in Action > 24 July 2015. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02x6cwh

Grant, Bob. 27 July 2015. “Four-legged Snake Fossil Found.” The Scientist > The Nutshell. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/43604/title/Four-legged-Snake-Fossil-Found/

Locsin, Joel. 4 August 2015. “This ‘Four-legged Snake’ is Changing the Way We Think about Snake Evolution.” Newsi.NG. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://philippines.newsi.ng/news/72157-this-four-legged-snake-is-changing-the-way-we-think-about-snake-evolution

Martill, David M. 1993. Fossils of the Santana and Crato Formations, Brazil. Field Guides to Fossils No. 5. London UK: Palaeontological Association.

Martill, David M., Günter Bechly, and Robert F. Loveridge. 2007. The Crato Fossil Beds of Brazil: Window into an Ancient World. Cambridge UK; New York NY: Cambridge University Press.

Martill, David M.; Tischlinger, Helmut; and Longrich, Nicholas R. 24 July 2015. "A Four-legged Snake from the Early Cretaceous of Gondwana." Science 349(6246):416-419. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ doi: 10.1126/science.aaa9208  

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  • Available @ http://0-www.nature.com.ils.sidra.org/news/four-legged-fossil-snake-is-a-world-first-1.18050

“Researchers Hesitate to Fully Embrace Ancient, Four-legged Snake." 2 New Things > 23 July 2015. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://2newthings.com/researchers-hesitate-to-fully-embrace-ancient-four-legged-snake/

Sabino, Julie. 23 July 2015. “Oldest Snake Fossil Has Four Legs, Partial Features of a Lizard.” Headline & Global News. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.hngn.com/articles/112277/20150723/oldest-snake-fossil-has-four-legs-partial-features-of-a-lizard.htm

Smith, Ginny. 28 July 2015. “The Four-legged, Hugging Snake.” The Naked Scientists > Science News. Retrieved August 2015.

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“Snake with Feet: Oldest Snake Fossil.” Associated Post United States of America > World News. Retrieved August 2015.

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Temperton, James. 24 July 2015. “Four-legged ‘Hugging Snake’ Could be a Missing Link.” Wired > News > Snakes. Retrieved August 2015.

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“Tetrapodophis amplectus.” The World of Animals > Terrestrial Animals > 26 July 2015. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://theworldofanimals.proboards.com/thread/1144/tetrapodophis-amplectus?page=1

Webb, Jonathan. 24 July 2015. “Four-legged Snake Ancestor ‘Dug Burrows’.” BBC News > Science & Environment. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2015-07/24/four-legged-hugging-snake-fossil

Virata, John. 5 August 2015. “Brazil Wants Possession of the Four-legged Snake Fossil.” Reptile Magazine > Snakes > Information & News. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/science-sushi/2015/07/24/four-legged-snake-shakes-up-squamate-family-tree-or-does-it/#.VcjbOiiWE5Q

Wilcox, Christie. 24 July 2015. “Four-legged Snake Shakes up Squamate Family Tree- Or Does It?” Discover > Blogs > Science Sushi. Retrieved August 2015.

  • Available @ http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/science-sushi/2015/07/24/four-legged-snake-shakes-up-squamate-family-tree-or-does-it/#.VcjbOiiWE5Q 

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The serendipity of discovery: While leading a student field trip primarily interested in Archaeopteryx specimen at Burgermeister Muller Museum, David Martill spotted the unidentified serpentine fossil which is known now as Tetrapodophis amplectus.

Burgermeister Muller Museum houses one of the world's 11 specimens of Archaeopteryx, a bird-like dinosaur thriving in today's southern Germany during Late Jurassic period (around 150 million years ago).
Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, Solnhofen, Bavaria, southeastern Germany
Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum, Solnhofen, Bavaria, southeastern Germany
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Gold Slithering Snake Charm, 10K by Charm America ~ Available now via Amazon

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Tupandactylus Perched on a Rock During the Early Cretaceous Period by Ukraine-based artist Sergey Krasovskiy ~ Available as Art Print and Premium Giclée Print via AllPosters

Other fossils from Early Cretaceous in Crato Formation which yielded Tetrapodophis amplectus include pterosaur ("winged lizard") Tupandactylus ("Tupan finger"),
Tupandactylus Perched on a Rock During the Early Cretaceous Period

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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 08/11/2015

blackspanielgallery, The one thing that's less frightening is the body length since so many constrictor snakes can be scary in their lengths and widths.

blackspanielgallery on 08/10/2015

This indeed would be frightening to encounter.

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