Size Estimates of Extinct Aquatic Snakes from the Eocene of Central Georgia


The purpose of this study was to estimate the total length of extinct aquatic marine palaeopheid snakes based on fossil vertebrae recovered from Eocene sediments in an active kaolin mine in Wilkinson County, Georgia. Across portions of central Georgia, extensive deposits of kaolin lie immediately beneath the sediments of the Barnwell Group, and mining operations to recover kaolin often expose these fossil-bearing sediments. The snake fossils were recovered by surface collecting fossiliferous horizons exposed by mining operations. In addition to fossil snakes, fossils of many sharks, sawfish and rays, turtles, and some larger marine mammals were also recovered. A comparison of the Wilkinson County mine fossils with the nearby Hardie Mine fauna suggests a comparable Late Eocene (34.5-35.5 ma) age. Using digital calipers, anterior-posterior centrum lengths were taken on vertebrae of modern boids (Boa, Liasis, and Python) and the colubrid genus Pantherophis of known lengths. Regression analyses were performed for the modern snakes, and a strong correlation between centrum length and total body length was found for Boa (r2 = 0.977) and Pantherophis (r2 = 0.710). Using the regression equations, the estimated total body length of the ancient sea snakes ranged between 1.6 and 4.8 meters with the Boa regression and from 1.9 to 5.6 meters for the Pantherophis regression. Although not directly related to the modern sea snake, the ancient palaeopheid sea snakes were up to 4 meters longer than modern sea snakes. This analysis enhances our understanding of the diversity of ancient snakes that once lived in Georgia

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