Wild Tracks

On behalf of the world's wild species

Supersized Slitherer

An open-pit coal mine in Colombia has revealed the remains of several giant prehistoric snakes, thought to be the largest ever to have lived.

The constrictors, named Titanoboas, weighed more than 2,500 pounds (1134 kg), measured up to 43 feet long (13 m) from nose to tip and 39 inches (100 cm) around. The largest living snake today, the giant, or green, anaconda average about 17 feet (5 m) in length, but some can grow to more than 30 feet (9 m) long and 3 feet (90 cm) around.

Artist rendering of Titanoboa courtesty of Indiana University.

Artist rendering of Titanoboa courtesty of Indiana University.

A vertebra of Titanoboa is about as wide as a man’s hand. The verterbra of a 17 ft anaconda is about an inch wide. The scientists estimated the size of the snake from the spinal vertebra, and soon realized they were the largest ever seen.

The fossils were in rock dating back 60 million years, and give scientists an unprecedented insight into the large animals that ruled the tropics after the sudden demise of the dinosaurs.

Titanoboa’s size also gives clues about its environment, since cold-blooded animals grow much larger in warmer climates. Based on the snake’s size, researchers calculated that the tropics were on average 5C warmer than they are today.

The fossils suggest equatorial temperatures in Titanoboa’s day were significantly warmer than they are now, during a time when the world as a whole was warmer. The findings suggest the equatorial regions will warm up along with the rest of the planet.

Throwing global warming into this equation, you can pause to wonder about two things. If the tropical areas of the earth continue to experience a rise in temperatures along with the rest of the world, will their reptiles increase in size accordingly?

The largest cold-blooded animals alive today are in the tropics where it is hottest, but farther away from the equator they generally get smaller. As temperatures around the world rise, does this mean snakes in the temperate areas will also get larger? Or could it mean the large, tropical snakes of today will move northward?

I doubt we would ever see a 45 foot long snake again – nor would most of us want to. There are no longer any 10 ft (3 m) giant turtles for them to eat, for one thing.

When it comes to global warming 99.9% of the news is bad. With apologies to those who don’t like reptiles, I find it very refreshing to think that climate change may actually benefit reptile species. But then again, I am a reptile fan.

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One response to “Supersized Slitherer

  1. Obbserver February 22, 2009 at 1:41 am

    Best defence of global warming I’ve heard in a while.

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