The Snake Can Walk?

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A snake with a leg—is it evidence of evolution, creation, both, or neither?

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The Telegraph reports this week on a strange sighting in Suining, China: a snake, 16 inches (41 cm) long, that has a leg (complete with claws).

"I turned on the light and saw this monster working its way along the wall using his claw.”

Discoverer Duan Qiongxiu described her encounter: “I woke up and heard a strange scratching sound. I turned on the light and saw this monster working its way along the wall using his claw.” Frightened, she killed the snake with a shoe—but then preserved the oddity in a bottle of alcohol.

The snake is now in the custody of West Normal University in China, where it is scheduled to undergo an autopsy to learn more about the leg.

To some, a snake spontaneously growing a leg (or so it appears) would seem to be out-and-out proof of evolution. After all, if a snake can grow a leg, why couldn’t a fish grow feet, a dinosaur grow feathers, etc.? How could creationists explain the increase in genetic information that a snake leg would require?

But there’s a catch. Both evolutionists and creationists actually believe that snakes weren’t always legless. Evolutionists believe that snakes are the evolutionary descendants of lizards that gradually lost their legs (as we discussed in 2007 and 2008); thus, they view this legged snake as hearkening back to its evolutionary ancestors. As for creationists, we read in Genesis 3:14 that God punished the serpent for deceiving Eve:

So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.

The Bible does not explain the scientific specifics of “on your belly you shall go.”

While the Bible does not explain the scientific specifics of “on your belly you shall go,” creationists have generally understood this to mean that the original serpentine created kind had legs. Even if God “muted” the genetic information for legs in snakes (so that none could truly walk), a mutation could cause some of the latent genetic information to be expressed in the form of an errant limb.

Furthermore, there are fossil examples of what appear to be legged snakes—see Snakes with legs? A preliminary reply; Does this evolutionary claim have any legs?; and News to Note, April 12, 2008. (Since these fossils would have most likely been formed thousands of years after the events of Genesis 3, it is possible they represent a different, snake-like reptile form—or that they are atavistic legged snakes like the one discovered in China.)

Regardless of the specific history of snakes’ legs, what matters is that a leg on a snake would not be a truly novel genetic feature, since there is evidence that the snake genome once had the information to produce legs. The leglessness of snakes today represents a corruption, loss, or deactivation of that information (at least, the elements coding for a full set of functional limbs). Such is the opposite of the mutation-driven increase in genetic information that molecules-to-man evolution would require. Also, snakes have several uniquely designed features that set them apart from lizards and other reptiles (see To make a snake).

Finally, we should not prematurely discount the possibility that this snake isn’t the bona fide natural curiosity it appears to be. Although we are not aware of a profit motive in this case, fake organisms have come from China before (e.g., Archaeoraptor). Also, bloggers and online commentators have suggested the leg actually belongs to a lizard—the snake’s last meal. (Snakes are known to ingest their prey whole, with their midsections sometimes taking on the shape of their meal.) Whatever the case, we hope the researchers at West Normal University will discover the true origins of this snake leg.

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