Temporal range: Paleocene, 60–58Ma
|Illustration by Nobu Tamura|
Head et al., 2009
|Species:||† T. cerrejonensis|
Head et al., 2009
Titanoboa, // ty-TAN-ə-BOH-ə; meaning "titanic boa," is an extinct genus of snake that lived approximately 60–58 million years ago, during the Paleocene epoch, a 10-million-year period immediately following the dinosaur extinction event. The only known species is Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest, longest, and heaviest snake ever discovered, which supplanted the previous record holder, Gigantophis.
By comparing the sizes and shapes of its fossilized vertebrae to those of extant snakes, researchers estimated T. cerrejonensis reached a maximum length of 12 to 15 m (40 to 50 ft), weighed about 1,135 kg (2,500 lb).
Comparison with living snakes
The largest eight of the twenty-eight T. cerrejonensis snakes found are estimated to reach a length of 12.8 ± 2.2 metres (42 ± 7.2 ft). In comparison, the largest extant snakes are the Python reticulatus, which measures up to 8.7 metres (29 ft) long, and the green or common anaconda, which measures up to 5.21 metres (17.1 ft) long and is considered the heaviest snake on Earth. At the other end of the scale, the smallest extant snake is Leptotyphlops carlae, with a length of about 10 centimetres (3.9 in).
In 2009, the fossils of 28 individual T. cerrejonensis were found in the Cerrejón Formation of the coal mines of Cerrejón in La Guajira, Colombia. Prior to this discovery, few fossils of Paleocene-epoch vertebrates had been found in ancient tropical environments of South America. The snake was discovered on an expedition by a team of international scientists led by Jonathan Bloch, a University of Florida vertebrate paleontologist, and Carlos Jaramillo, a paleobotanist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.
Because snakes are ectothermic, the discovery implies that the tropics, the creature's habitat must have been warmer than previously thought, averaging approximately 30 °C (90 °F). The warmer climate of the Earth during the time of T. cerrejonensis allowed cold-blooded snakes to attain much larger sizes than modern snakes. Today, larger ectothermic animals are found in the tropics, where it is hottest, and smaller ones are found farther from the equator.
However, several researchers disagreed with the above estimate. For example, a 2009 study in the journal Nature applying the mathematical model used in the above study to an ancient lizard fossils from temperate Australia predicts that lizards currently living in tropical areas should be capable of reaching 33 feet, which is obviously not the case.
In another critique published in the same journal, Mark Denny, a specialist in biomechanics, noted that the snake was so large and was producing so much metabolic heat that the ambient temperature must have been four to six degrees cooler than the current estimate, or the snake would have overheated.
In popular culture
In 2011, Charlie Brinson and his team created a 10-metre-long (33 ft) electromechanical, robotic reincarnation of the Titanoboa snake, using twenty high-strength aluminum vertebrae and forty proportional hydraulic cylinders. There are plans to extend it to the full 15-metre (49 ft) length.
On 22 March 2012, a full-scale-model replica of a 15-metre-long (49 ft), 1,100-kilogram (2,425 lb) Titanoboa was displayed in Grand Central Station in New York City. It was a promotion for a TV show on the Smithsonian Channel called Titanoboa: Monster Snake which aired 1 April 2012.
- Head, J. J.; Bloch, J. I.; Hastings, A. K.; Bourque, J. R.; Cadena, E. A.; Herrera, F. A.; Polly, P. D.; Jaramillo, C. A. (2009). "Giant boid snake from the paleocene neotropics reveals hotter past equatorial temperatures". Nature 457 (7230): 715–718. doi:10.1038/nature07671. PMID 19194448.
- Kwok, R. (4 February 2009). "Scientists find world's biggest snake". Nature News. doi:10.1038/news.2009.80.
- "At 2,500 Pounds And 43 Feet, Prehistoric Snake Is Largest On Record". Science Daily. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 2009-02-06.
- "Ancient, gargantuan snakes ate crocs for breakfast". CTV News. 4 February 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-02-08. Retrieved 2009-02-07.
- Murphy, J. C.; Henderson, R. W. (1997). Tales of Giant Snakes: A Historical Natural History of Anacondas and Pythons. Krieger Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89464-995-7.
- Hedges, S. B. (2008). "At the lower size limit in snakes: two new species of threadsnakes (Squamata: Leptotyphlopidae: Leptotyphlops) from the Lesser Antilles". Zootaxa 1841: 1–30.
- Maugh II, T. H. (4 February 2009). "Fossil of 43-foot super snake Titanoboa found in Colombia". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-02-04.
- Joyce, C. (5 February 2009). "1-Ton Snakes Once Slithered In The Tropics". NPR. Retrieved 2009-02-05.
- Shellito, C. J.; Sloan, L. C.; Huber, M. (2003). "Climate model sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 levels in the Early–Middle Paleogene". Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 193: 113. doi:10.1016/S0031-0182(02)00718-6.
- Makarieva, A. M; Gorshkov, V. G; Li, B.-L. (2005). "Gigantism, temperature and metabolic rate in terrestrial poikilotherms". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272 (1578): 2325–2328. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3223. PMC 1560189. PMID 16191647.
- Sniderman, J. M. K. (2009). "Biased reptilian palaeothermometer?". Nature 460 (7255): E1. doi:10.1038/nature08222.
- Denny, M. W.; Lockwood, B. L.; Somero, G. N. (2009). "Can the giant snake predict palaeoclimate?". Nature 460 (7255): E3. doi:10.1038/nature08224.
- Robotic Titanoboa, official website.
- "Titanoboa: Monster Snake", Smithsonian Channel website. The replica is currently on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville FL. Last accessed 5 April 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Titanoboa.|
- A Snake the Size of a Plane: How did prehistoric animals get so big? By Nina Shen Rastogi. Feb. 5, 2009.
- BBC article on Titanoboa
- Titanoboa: Monster Snake at the Internet Movie Database