New highlights about the enigmatic marine snake Palaeophis maghrebianus (Palaeophiidae; Palaeophiinae) from the Ypresian (Lower Eocene) phosphates of Morocco


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Abstract:  Palaeophis maghrebianus belongs to the Palaeophiinae (Palaeophiidae). This snake subfamily is relatively poorly known, and it is mainly represented by disarticulated vertebrae and ribs and by a few vertebral segments. Its intracolumnar variability remains also poorly understood. The discovery of new isolated vertebrae and vertebral segments of Palaeophis maghrebianus in the Ypresian (Lower Eocene) Phosphates of Morocco enables us to provide a more detailed diagnosis of this species and to describe its intracolumnar variability. Moreover, the new material reveals that this species could reach gigantic size being, with Palaeophis colossaeus, one of the two longer palaeophiids. The microanatomical and histological analysis of some vertebrae illustrating diverse positions along the vertebral column reveals the presence of osteosclerosis, especially in the anterior and mid-precloacal regions. The occurrence of this osseous specialization implies a role in buoyancy and body trim control in this taxon, which is considered a shallow marine dweller based on its anatomical features and geological data. Palaeophis maghrebianus also displays a dense vascular network suggesting a growth speed, and thus a metabolic rate, much higher than in the biggest extant snakes.