A Late Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) assemblage of snakes from the Maevarano Formation of the Mahajanga Basin, northwestern Madagascar, constitutes the only fossil record of snakes from the island. The assemblage, which lived in a highly seasonal, semi-arid climate, includes only archaic forms belonging to the Madtsoiidae and Nigerophiidae, and therefore no representatives of extant Malagasy clades. A large sample of exquisitely preserved vertebrae and several ribs are assigned to Madtsoia madagascariensis, a long (almost 8 m), heavy-bodied ambush predator inferred to have subdued its prey via constriction. A new madtsoiid genus and species, Menarana nosymena, is represented by several associated vertebrae and rib fragments, and part of the basicranium. It was approximately 2.4 m long and appears to have been a powerful, head-first burrower, or at least to have had a burrowing ancestry. Kelyophis hechti, by far the smallest snake in the assemblage (<1 m long), is a new genus and species of primitive nigerophiid based on six isolated vertebral specimens. It was not as specialized for the aquatic lifestyle inferred for other nigerophiids. Although recent molecular phylogeographic studies suggest an early colonization of Madagascar by snakes ancestral to modern Malagasy boids, with subsequent vicariant evolution, the Maevarano Formation assemblage offers no support for this hypothesis. The repeated pattern of extinct archaic lineages being replaced on Madagascar by basal stocks of extant clades (e.g., Anura, Crocodyliformes, Avialae, Mammalia) after the Late Cretaceous is also a plausible scenario for the origin of the extant Malagasy snake fauna.
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Vol. 30 • No. 1