Titanoboa

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Titanoboa
Temporal range: Mid-Late Paleocene (Peligran-Itaboraian)
~60–58 Ma
Titanoboa NT.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Boidae
Genus: Titanoboa
Head et al. 2009
Species: T. cerrejonensis
Binomial name
Titanoboa cerrejonensis
Head et al. 2009

Titanoboa, /tiˌtɑːnˈbə/ is an extinct genus of very large snakes that lived in what is now La Guajira in northeastern Colombia. They could grow up to 12.8 m (42 ft) long and reach a weight of 1,135 kg (2,500 lb).[1]

Fossils of Titanoboa have been found in the Cerrejón Formation,[2] and date to around 58 to 60 million years ago. The giant snake lived during the Middle to Late Paleocene epoch,[3] a 10-million-year period immediately following the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event.[4]

The only known species is Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake ever discovered,[3] which supplanted the previous record holder, Gigantophis.

Etymology[edit]

The name Titanoboa means "titanic boa".[1] The species epithet cerrejonensis refers to the Cerrejón coal mine and the Cerrejón Formation, in which the fossils have been found.

Description[edit]

Relative size of Titanoboa to the modern human, reticulated python, and green anaconda.

By comparing the sizes and shapes of its fossilized vertebrae to those of extant snakes, researchers estimated that the largest individuals of T. cerrejonensis found had a total length around 12.8 m (42 ft) and weighed about 1,135 kg (2,500 lb; 1.12 long tons; 1.25 short tons).[1]

Cast of a Titanoboa dorsal vertebra in the Geological Museum José Royo y Gómez, Bogotá

Naming and discovery[edit]

Titanoboa is located in La Guajira Department
Titanoboa
Location of Cerrejón in La Guajira

In 2009, the fossils of 28 individuals of T. cerrejonensis were found in the Cerrejón Formation of the coal mines of Cerrejón in La Guajira, Colombia.[1][3] Before this discovery, few fossils of Paleocene-epoch vertebrates had been found in ancient tropical environments of South America.[5] 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.[4] The name Titanoboa means "titanic boa".[1] The species epithet cerrejonensis refers to the Cerrejón coal mine and the Cerrejón Formation, in which the fossils have been found.

Habitat[edit]

Titanoboa inhabited the first recorded Neotropical forest in the world. It shared its ecosystem with large Crocodylomorpha and large turtles, which may have served as food for the giant snake. The paleogeography of the Late Paleocene was a sheltered paralic (coastal) swamp area, sheltered by the emerging later Guajira hills in the west and the slowly rising present-day Serranía del Perijá in the east, with an open connection to the proto-Caribbean in the north.[6] In this environment the tropical aquatic ferns of the genus Salvinia flourished, as evidenced by fossils found in Cerrejón, the Bogotá Formation and the Palermo Formation.[7]

Palaeobiology[edit]

While initially thought to have been an apex predator of the Paleocene ecosystem in which it lived, analysis of the cranial elements of Titanoboa possess unique features relative to other boids. These features include high palatal and marginal tooth position counts, low-angled quadrate orientation, and reduced palatine-pterygoid and ptery. This has pointed to the genus being dominantly piscivorous; a trait unique to Titanoboa among all boids.[8]

The size of T. cerrejonensis has also provided clues as to the earth's climate during its existence; because snakes are ectothermic, the discovery implies that the tropics, the creature's habitat, must have been warmer than previously thought, averaging about 32 °C (90 °F).[1][3][9][10]

The warmer climate of the Earth during the time of T. cerrejonensis allowed cold-blooded snakes to attain much larger sizes than modern snakes.[11] Today, larger ectothermic animals are found in the tropics, where it is hottest, and smaller ones are found farther from the equator.[4]

However, other researchers disagree with the above climate estimate. For example, a 2009 study in the journal Nature applying the mathematical model used in the above study to an ancient lizard fossil from temperate Australia predicts that lizards currently living in tropical areas should be capable of reaching 10 to 14 m (33 to 46 ft), which is obviously not the case.[12]

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.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

Life-sized model of Titanoboa devouring a crocodilian, from the Smithsonian exhibit

On 22 March 2012, a full-scale-model replica of a 14.6 m (48 ft), 1,135 kg (2,500 lb) Titanoboa was displayed in Grand Central Terminal in New York City. It was a promotion for a TV show on the Smithsonian Channel called Titanoboa: Monster Snake which aired on 1 April 2012.[14][15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Head et al., 2009
  2. ^ Titanoboa cerrejonensis at Fossilworks.org
  3. ^ a b c d Kwok, R. (4 February 2009). "Scientists find world's biggest snake". Nature News. doi:10.1038/news.2009.80.
  4. ^ a b c "At 2,500 Pounds And 43 Feet, Prehistoric Snake Is Largest On Record". Science Daily. 4 February 2009. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
  5. ^ Maugh II, T.H. (4 February 2009). "Fossil of 43-foot super snake Titanoboa found in Colombia". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 4 February 2009.
  6. ^ Pérez Consuegra et al., 2017, p.95
  7. ^ Pérez Consuegra et al., 2017, p.85
  8. ^ Head et al., 2013, p.141
  9. ^ Joyce, C. (5 February 2009). "1-Ton Snakes Once Slithered In The Tropics". NPR. Retrieved 2017-05-22.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Makarieva et al., 2005
  12. ^ Sniderman, 2009
  13. ^ Head, 2009
  14. ^ "Titanoboa: Monster Snake". Smithsonian Channel. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  15. ^ "Titanoboa: Monster Snake - History's Deadliest Predators". Youtube. Smithsonian Channel. 21 March 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2016.

Bibliography and further reading[edit]

Regional geology[edit]

Local geology[edit]

Paleobiology Titanoboa[edit]

Paleobiology other flora and fauna[edit]

External links[edit]