Never mind the 40-foot snake that menaced Jennifer Lopez in the 1997
movie “Anaconda.” Not even Hollywood could match a new discovery from
the ancient world. Fossils from northeastern Colombia reveal the
biggest snake ever discovered: a behemoth that stretched 42 to 45 feet
long, reaching more than 2,500 pounds.
“This thing weighs more than a bison and is longer than a city bus,”
enthused snake expert Jack Conrad of the American Museum of Natural
History in New York, who was familiar with the find.
“It could easily eat something the size of a cow. A human would just be toast immediately.”
it tried to enter my office to eat me, it would have a hard time
squeezing through the door,” reckoned paleontologist Jason Head of the
University of Toronto Missisauga.
Actually, the beast probably
munched on ancient relatives of crocodiles in its rainforest home some
58 million to 60 million years ago, he said.
Head is senior author of a report on the find in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.
same issue carries another significant report from the distant past.
Scientists said they’d found the oldest known evidence of animal life,
remnants of steroids produced by sponges more than 635 million years
ago in Oman.)
The discoverers of the snake named it Titanoboa
cerrejonensis (“ty-TAN-o-BO-ah sare-ah-HONE-en-siss”). That means
“titanic boa from Cerrejon,” the region where it was found.
related to modern boa constrictors, it behaved more like an anaconda
and spent almost all its time in the water, Head said. It could slither
on land as well as swim.
Conrad, who wasn’t involved in the
discovery, called the find “just unbelievable…. It mocks your
preconceptions about how big a snake can get.”
the record for snake length by about 11 feet, surpassing a creature
that lived about 40 million years ago in Egypt, Head said. Among living
snake species, the record holder is an individual python measured at
about 30 feet long, which is some 12 to 15 feet shorter than typical
Titanoboas, said study co-author Jonathan Bloch.
The beast was
revealed in early 2007 at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of
Natural History in Gainesville. Bones collected at a huge open-pit coal
mine in Colombia were being unpacked, said Bloch, the museum’s curator
of vertebrate paleontology.
Graduate students unwrapping the
fossils “realized they were looking at the bones of a snake. Not only a
snake, but a really big snake.”
So they quickly consulted the
skeleton of a 17-foot anaconda for comparison. A backbone from that
creature is about the size of a silver dollar, Bloch said, while a
backbone from Titanoboa is “the size of a large Florida grapefruit.”
far the scientists have found about 180 fossils of backbone and ribs
that came from about two dozen individual snakes, and now they hope to
go back to Colombia to find parts of the skull, Bloch said.
size gives clues about its environment. A snake’s size is related to
how warm its environment is. The fossils suggest equatorial
temperatures in its day were significantly warmer than they are now,
during a time when the world as a whole was warmer. So equatorial
temperatures apparently rose along with the global levels, in contrast
to the competing hypothesis that they would not go up much, Head noted.
a leap” to apply the conditions of the past to modern climate change,
Head said. But given that, the finding still has “some potentially
scary implications for what we’re doing to the climate today,” he said.
The finding suggest the equatorial regions will warm up along with the planet, he said.
won’t have giant snakes, however, because we are removing most of their
habitats by development and deforestation” in equatorial regions, he