Early Pleistocene Snake (Squamata, Reptilia) Skeleton From Renzidong Cave, Anhui, China

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The Quaternary record of fossil snakes (Reptilia, Squamata) in Asia is extremely rare; any information is noteworthy. An articulated snake skeleton was recovered from the early Pleistocene (2.15–2.14 Ma) deposits in Renzidong Cave, Yangtze River Valley, east-central China. The skeleton contains about 122 nearly complete vertebrae but lacks the cranium and caudal vertebrae. Preserved vertebral characters indicate that the snake is particularly similar to the rat snake, Elaphe (Colubridae) especially with the European Elaphe praelongissima (late Miocene). We identify the specimen as cf. Elaphe sp. This genus and ‘Coluber s.l.’ are unfortunately similar and difficult to differentiate based on just vertebral comparisons of species living in Europe. Adequate comparative skeletons of living snakes of eastern Asia are noticeably absent in museums making identifications of fossil specimens less than satisfactory. Finding dated fossil remains of the snake Elaphe in Asia holds importance to the understanding of its time of dispersal between Asia, Europe and North America, but this can only be adequately examined with fossil remains accurately and satisfactorily identified.