Marine Snakes of the Tethyan-realm
A substantial of my recent research effort is devoted to the continued study of 95 million year old snake fossils from marine rocks in Israel, Lebanon, and Croatia. These fossil snakes are beautifully preserved in complete articulation, are only slightly younger than the oldest known snakes (known only from isolated vertebrae), and still possess a complete hindlimb that extends beyond the body wall (as compared to modern snakes which possess vestiges of the pelvic skeleton and limb skeleton within the body wall). Myself and my collaborator Dr. M. Lee were the first to recognize that Pachyrhachis problematicus, one of the marine forms from Israel, was actually a snake and not a limb-reduced lizard, and to provide a solid diagnosis characterizing this animal, thus allowing for recognition of it as a snake. The two specimens we assigned to the taxon had been described 25 years earlier, but had not been identified as snakes. Subsequent to that pivotal and pioneering research, we re-identified as a snake, a second fossil of similar age, from Croatia, Pachyophis woodwardi. The presence or absence of limbs in this second taxon cannot yet be verified from existing specimens. My work on this group of animals has significantly influenced the public and academic interest in the origin and evolution of snakes. Several new taxa have been described by competing research teams. I have also been given access to two new taxa of undescribed marine snakes from 95 million year old rocks in Lebanon. I am describing and systematizing these specimens in collaboration with Dr. Cristiano dal Sasso (Milano, Italia).