60-mln yr old giant snake would have made modern anacondas seem like garter snakes

February 5th, 2009 - 12:59 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 5 (ANI): Scientists have found fossils from a 60-million-year-old South American snake, which is the largest snake on record, and would have outsized even present day anacondas, making them seem like garter snakes in comparison.

Named Titanoboa cerrejonensis by its discoverers, the size of the snakes vertebrae suggest it weighed 1,140 kilograms (2,500 pounds) and measured 13 meters (42.7 feet) nose to tail tip.

At its greatest width, the snake would have come up to about your hips, said geologist David Polly of Indiana University, who identified the position of the fossil vertebrae, which made an estimate possible.

The size is pretty amazing. We went a step further and asked, how warm would the Earth have to be to support a body of this size? he added.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute geologist Carlos Jaramillo and University of Florida vertebrate paleontologist Jonathan Bloch discovered the fossils in the Cerrejon Coal Mine in northern Colombia, and investigated what the snakes environment might have been like.

Paleontologist Jason Head of the University of Toronto, the research papers lead author, made an estimate of Earths temperature 58 to 60 million years ago in an area encompassed by modern-day Colombia.

Scientists have long known of a rough correlation between a period or epoch’’s temperature and the size of its poikilotherms (cold-blooded creatures), said Paul Filmer, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)s Division of Earth Sciences, which co-funded the research.

As Earths temperature increases, so does the upper size limit on poikilotherms, he added.

Head estimated that a snake of Titanoboas size would have required an average annual temperature of 30 to 34 degrees Celsius (86 to 93 Fahrenheit) to survive.

Tropical ecosystems of South America were surprisingly different 60 million years ago, said Bloch. It was a rainforest, like today, but it was even hotter and the cold-blooded reptiles were substantially larger. The result was, among other things, the largest snakes the world has ever seen, he added.

The scientists classify Titanoboa as a boine snake, a type of non-venomous constrictor that includes anacondas and boas.

Polly extrapolated the placement of Titanoboa fossil vertebrae by comparing the fossils structure to the vertebrae of todays boine snakes.

Snake vertebrae become larger near a snakes midsection, but they are also structured differently than vertebrae closer to a snake’’s head or tail.

Using a computer model, Polly estimated that the fossil vertebrae originated near Titanoboa’’s middle. Therefore, the snake could have been even larger than it appears. (ANI)

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