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History's Largest Snake Was As Long As School Bus And Ate 12-Foot Crocodiles

mason.zimmer 27 Jun 2019

The farther we look back, the larger the animals that roamed the earth seemed to be.

As I learned during a recent visit to the La Brea Tar Pits, even the massive bears and fearsome wolves that we're familiar with can't compare to the short-faced bears and dire wolves of 60,000 years ago that grew to double their size.

And when we make the jump from about 60,000 years ago to about 60 million, the conversation shifts to creatures that were even more impressive.

Cerrejón is a long stretch of outback in northern Colombia that is known for its coal production, but scientists are attracted to it for a different reason.

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According to The Smithsonian, it's also home to one of the world's largest treasure troves of fossil deposits that show what the world was like 58 million years ago.

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This was "only" a few million years after the dinosaurs died out, which was apparently enough time for an impressive menagerie to take their place.

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As The Smithsonian reported, these included seven-foot lungfish, turtles with shells that doubled the size of manhole covers and at least three different species of crocodiles that could grow over 12 feet long.

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Yet, back in 2009, scientists uncovered evidence of a snake that eclipsed all of them.

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The team, which included paleontologists Jonathan Bloch of the University of Florida and Jason Head from the University of Nebraska, pegged the snake as ranging between 42 and 49 feet in length and weighing about 2,500 pounds on average.

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That certainly sounds big, but those raw numbers don't necessarily help us picture exactly how big this was.

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The snake, which they named Titanoboa cerrejonensis, was about as long as a school bus and weighed about the same as a rhinoceros.

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The name comes from the fact that the team initially believed it had more characteristics of a boa constrictor than an anaconda, but that's hard to determine now.

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This became particularly apparently once they discovered a Titanoboa skull back in 2011, which they noticed was very different from most boas.

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Not only did this skull provide a host of new clues, but Block was amazed to have found it at all.


As he told The Smithsonian, "You just never find a snake skull, and we have one. When the animal dies, the skull falls apart. The bones get lost."

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This is because snake skulls are typically made from delicate bones that aren't held together very strongly.

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So the researchers considered the chances of finding one intact a pipe dream at best.

As Blochsaid, "'Well, pie in the sky we’ll find a skull of Titanoboa—’"

"—and then we did," Head added.

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One thing they learned from its sheer size, however, is that it could eat whatever it wanted to.

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Although the Titanoboa had the kind of teeth that are usually specialized for fish eating, this didn't stop it from chowing down on any turtles or crocodiles that were interested in taking this fish for themselves.

The Titanoboa was at the top of its food chain.

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Naturally, the next question that came up was how the snake got to be so large.

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The team figured that it lived in a tropical climate with an average temperature ranging between 86 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit, but other researchers passionately disagreed.

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In their view, this seemed to contradict everything we know about reptiles.

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They contend that even given that tropical climates at the time were warmer than they are now, the snake would have overheated if things became that hot.

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So as we can see, the Titanoboa still holds a whole world of mysteries to unlock.

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It would be particularly interesting to know how such a mighty creature ended up going extinct, especially given the changes our planet is going through now.

h/t: The Smithsonian

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