Snakes with legs? A preliminary reply

20 March 2000

Obviously, our scientists and other researchers need time to digest and evaluate all the relevant material. What follows are some preliminary thoughts:

  • Even assuming it could be established that the ancestor of snakes today had legs, creationists have no problem in principle with loss of features through natural processes. Development of leglessness is not evidence for molecules-to-man evolution, which requires addition of new genetic information. Loss of legs could be achieved through degeneration of the DNA information sequences that specify leg development. See also Beetle bloopers: Even a defect can be an advantage sometimes.
  • The findings are controversial. Some evolutionists claim that snakes came out of the sea, from something like a mosasaur. Others insist on a land-based origin. The controversy still rages. In other words, the fossils are open to interpretation. Features that one group claim are evidence for an evolutionary relationship the other group say are “convergent” (not due to common inheritance, they just appear to be). In other words, the new fossil, despite all the hype, proves nothing. It will be proclaimed by some as another example of a transitional fossil, but transitional with what? They are unable to agree.
  • Note that the “rudimentary legs” on some snakes are acknowledged as having a function during reproduction, as claspers during copulation. See also Vestigial Organs: What do they prove?
  • Bible believers should be wary of rushing in with comments about the serpent in Genesis. This fossil was probably formed in Noah’s Flood, hence the creature it represents was in existence some 1600 years after the cursing of the serpent to crawl on its belly.

Sources of original claim

Eitan Tchernov, Olivier Rieppel*, Hussam Zaher, Michael J. Polcyn, Louis L. Jacobs, A Fossil Snake with Limbs, Science 287(5460):2010–2012, March 17, 2000; comment by Harry W. Greene and David Cundall*, Limbless Tetrapods and Snakes with Legs, same issue, pp. 1939–1941. The articles were based on a fossil first found in the West Bank area of Israel, and recently rediscovered in a museum drawer. It was given the official name Haasiophis terrasanctus, after the late vertebrate paleontologist Prof. Georg Haas, ophis (Greek for snake) and terrasanctus (Latin for Holy Land).

Published: 11 February 2006