Fossilized snake with exploded head

There is a temporary exhibit called “Geopalooza! A Hard Rock Anthology” at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. If you are in Houston this summer (until August 24), this is something absolutely worth checking out: you can see some outstanding geodes, crystals, meteorites, and fossil specimens. I have been to many natural history museums, but I rarely get as high as I did at the HMNS the other day [‘getting high’ is the right terminology here: you get to (or have to) listen to Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan while looking at the rocks]. Even if you are not too much into rocks, minerals, fossils, and natural science in general, these pieces are so beautiful that they can simply be viewed as works of art.

Here is for example a fossil snake from the Eocene Green River Formation in Wyoming. This formation has not only one of the most significant fossil sites in the US, but it also contains the largest oil shale deposit in the country: there are 1.5 trillion barrels of shale oil within the former lake sediments. Preservation of both fossils and of organic matter requires special conditions on the lake bottom: a partial or total lack of oxygen not only prevents oxidation of organic material, but also makes life difficult for critters that otherwise would totally churn the sediment and leave no undisturbed animal remains behind.


One of the museum curators was around when I was checking out this snake and she explained that the reason why the head bones are in such a disarray – compared to the beautifully arranged backbone and ribs – is that, as the snake’s body started to decompose, the easiest way out for the accumulating gases was through the head.

I think this snake must belong to the species Boavus idelmani, and is probably one of the best preserved fossil snakes in North America.


The rest of the photos from Geopalooza are here.

8 thoughts on “Fossilized snake with exploded head

  1. I’ve never had much luck with pictures taken under museum lighting conditions (or any interior lighting, really); maybe it’s just the limits of my crappy point’n’shoot.

  2. Beautiful photos! Thanks for visiting the museum, and for sharing your experience. If you’re on Flickr, we would love to see your photos in the Museum’s pool.

  3. I know the person who found this specimen! I couldn’t believe it when he told me he found a snake. Whenever the guys I dug with would be digging, we would always joke about how we were going to be the one to find the snake! First one in over 100 years from the Green River Formation and only the second known snake ever found from there! Congrats Adam!

  4. I have been keeping a stone that looks like a snake head.head. If it is, then it must be a giant snake. It was found lying in a river at the foot of a mountain in Central Java, Indonesia. Can you help me identify if it is indeed a snake fossil. Agus Satoto, Bekasi +6281932100598 at agussatoto@gmail.com

  5. @ Agus – I am not an expert in fossilized snakes, but can have a quick look if you send me a photo. If it does look like it indeed is a fossil, I might be able to help you to track down a real expert.

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