So modern snakes eat dinosaur eggs?

From the article “Prehistoric snake gobbled-up dinosaur babies” by Jeremy Hance, which was published on on March 2, 2010:

A fossilized snake has been discovered inside a titanosaur nest in India, leading researchers to conclude that the snake fed on newly-hatched dinosaur babies, rather than their eggs like modern snakes.

The thought process is quite clear, though probably even in its long form simplistic:

  1. This prehistoric snake ate freshly hatched baby dinosaurs.
  2. Modern snakes evolved from prehistoric snakes.
  3. Birds evolved from dinosaurs (though there’s some fuzziness around the edges of this statement).
  4. Birds (and most reptiles) lay eggs.
  5. Modern snakes eat eggs.

But here, it got telescoped into an over-shortened version in which the pronoun “their [eggs]” carries the entire weight of referring, simultaneously  to  dinosaurs in the prehistoric case and (unnamed) birds in the modern case.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

5 thoughts on “So modern snakes eat dinosaur eggs?”

  1. If we leave out the word their, then I think the sentence ends up meaning what it was intended to mean. As it stands, though, I think it has several possible readings, all fairly absurd, of which your interpretation is the most salient. It could be taken to mean that modern snakes eat their own eggs. It could, if we give “like modern snakes” wider scope, mean that modern snakes, like prehistoric ones, eat dinosaur babies rather than eggs. And I think it could even mean that while researchers conclude that the prehistoric snake fed on dinosaur babies, modern snakes conclude that it fed on dinosaur babies’ eggs, although that’s a bit more of a stretch.

  2. I’m squinting very hard to visualize your last reading. The impressive thing for me was the little word “their” made to span referents separated by 100 Mio years or so.

    [Also, slight drafting error corrected.]

  3. Ah, yes–I missed that one. And researchers do occasionally lay eggs, although generally in the idiomatic rather than the literal sense (unfortunately for the snakes).

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