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Temporal range: Cretaceous - Eocene
Palaeophiidae - Palaeophis maghrebianus.JPG
Fossil vertebrae of Palaeophis maghrebianus from Khouribga (Morocco)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Palaeophiidae
Subfamily: Palaeopheinae
Genus: Palaeophis
Owen, 1841

Palaeophis ('ancient snake') is an extinct genus of marine snake that is the type genus of the extinct snake family Palaeophiidae.

Species within this genus lived from the Cretaceous period to the Eocene epoch, approximately from 70.6 to 33.9 million years ago.[1] Fossils of species within this genus have been found in England, France, Denmark,[2] Morocco[3] and Mali.[4]


Species within this genus include:[1]

  • Palaeophis africanus Andrews 1924
  • Palaeophis casei Holman 1982
  • Palaeophis colossaeus Rage 1983
  • Palaeophis ferganicus Averianov 1997
  • Palaeophis grandis Marsh 1869
  • Palaeophis halidanus Cope 1868
  • Palaeophis littoralis Cope 1847
  • Palaeophis maghrebianus Arambourg 1952
  • Palaeophis nessovi Averianov 1997
  • Palaeophis tamdy Averianov 1997
  • Palaeophis toliapicus Owen 1841
  • Palaeophis typhaeus Owen 1850
  • Palaeophis vastaniensis Bajpai & Head 2008
  • Palaeophis virginianus Lynn 1934


Illustration of articulated vertebrae of P. toliapicus

These species varied broadly in size; Palaeophis casei is the smallest at 1.3 metres of length, while Palaeophis colossaeus, known from a single vertebra, is the largest at the estimated size limits for the genus at over 9 m (29.5 ft) in length,[4] making it one of the largest known snakes. However most species of the genus were not as big.[5][6]


Species of Palaeophis were specialised aquatic animals, as their fossils occur primarily in marine strata, though at least some estuarine remains have also been found. Different species are thought to have occupied different ecological niches.

Studies on Palaeophis vertebrae show a high degree of vascularisation, suggesting that it had a considerably faster metabolism and growth rate than modern snakes. This may suggest that palaeophiids, like other marine reptiles such as mosasaurs, might have developed towards endothermy.[3]


  1. ^ a b Fossilworks
  2. ^ Kristensen, H. V.; Cuny, G.; Rasmussen, A. R.; Madsen, H (2012). "Earliest record of the fossil snake Palaeophis from the Paleocene/Eocene boundary in Denmark". Bulletin de la Société Géologique de France. 183 (6): 621–625. doi:10.2113/gssgfbull.183.6.621. 
  3. ^ a b Houssaye, Alexandra; Rage, Jean-Claude; Bardet, Nathalie; Vincent, Peggy; Amaghzaz, Mbarek; Meslouh, Said (2013). "New highlights about the enigmatic marine snake Palaeophis maghrebianus (Palaeophiidae; Palaeophiinae) from the Ypresian (Lower Eocene) phosphates of Morocco". Palaeontology. 56 (3): 647–661. doi:10.1111/pala.12008. 
  4. ^ a b Rage, J.-C. (1983). "Palaeophis colossaeus nov. sp. (le plus grand Seprent connu?) de l’Eocène du Mali et le problème du genre chez les Palaeopheinae". Comptes Rendus des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences, Paris. 3 (296): 1741–1744. 
  5. ^ Holman, J. Alan (1982). "Palaeophis casei, new species, a tiny palaeophid snake from the early Eocene of Mississippi". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 2 (2): 163–166. JSTOR 4522892. doi:10.1080/02724634.1982.10011927. 
  6. ^ Rage, Jean-Claude; et al. (2003). "Early Eocene snakes from Kutch, Western India, with a review of the Palaeophiidae". Geodiversitas. Editions scientifiques du Muséum, Paris, France. 25 (4): 695–716. ISSN 1280-9659. Retrieved 12 May 2010.