Titanoboa: The World’s Largest Snake
Could Titanoboa still be alive?
There are some fairly big snakes on earth these days – the python can grow up to 30 feet (the world’s longest snake), and the anaconda can weigh over 200 lbs, making it the heaviest snake. But Titanoboa, a monstrous serpent as long as a school bus, which existed about 60 million years ago, and then – fortunately for us, apparently went extinct - was much longer and heavier than any existing snake. So big, in fact, it fed on 20-foot crocodiles!
As far as we know, Titanoboa was the world’s biggest snake ever.
Let’s find out more about this gigantic snake and see if there could still be more of them lurking in the world’s watery depths:
Where Was Titanoboa Found?
According to the article “Monster Discovery” in the April 2012 issue of Smithsonian magazine, the fossil remains of a gargantuan snake that scientists dubbed Titanoboa (titanic boa), were discovered in an open pit coal mine in the Cerrejón region of Colombia between 2007 and 2010. This pit mine, larger than the area of Washington D.C., has yielded numerous fossils since the early 1990s, because once the vegetation is stripped from the land, coal is uncovered for miners and fossil-bearing shale for curious archaeologists.
Archaeologists discovered many vertebrae of Titanoboa, scientific name, Titanoboa cerrejonensis, as well as one skull, even though the heads of snakes are rarely found. The fossils are about 58 million years old, which means this giant snake lived during the Paleocene epoch. At this time, dinosaurs and many other animals had gone extinct, killed by some cataclysm perhaps, though the ecosystem had rebounded dramatically. (Please note that not all scientists believe an asteroid killed the dinosaurs.)
The Cerrejón area of this world, where Titanoboa was found, had become a different place than our modern one. Here it rained 150 inches per year, compared to 80 inches as it does today. Also, the average temperature was some 3 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than today and there was 50 percent more CO2 in the atmosphere. Seemingly, global warming had taken hold of this primeval world!
How Did Titanoboa Live?
Generally, a hotter temperature means cold-blooded reptiles such as snakes can grow larger. Reptiles must absorb heat from their environment, and the more heat they absorb means more energy for capturing and eating prey, and therefore they can grow bigger. That’s why creatures such as insects, reptiles, and amphibians can grow larger in the tropics than in temperate areas. In addition to snakes, ancient ancestors of Cerrejón lungfish and turtles grew larger than their modern relatives.
A snake the size of Titanoboa - 40 to 50 feet long, weighing 2,500 lbs and spanning as much as three feet in width - would have ruled this hot, steamy, tropical realm, eating pretty much whatever it fancied, mainly fish, turtles, and even adult crocodiles, which, because of its massive jaws, it could have swallowed whole in one long gulp!
This formidable slithering beast didn’t need venom to subdue its prey; it relied on constriction. Titanoboa could squeeze as hard as 400 pounds per square inch, enough force to kill any prey alive at that time, except for perhaps marine mammals such as whales.
The modern equivalent of Titanoboa is the boa, which can reach 14 feet long and weigh 100 pounds. But a much better match is the South American anaconda, a water snake that thrives in rivers, lakes, and swamps and can grow longer than 20 feet.
Could Titanoboa Still Exist?
When the first European explorers entered South American jungles, claims of giant anacondas began being circulated. Many of these lurking serpents, often considered man-eaters, were reported to be as long as 60 feet. The natives of the area also said they had seen such lengthy anacondas. In the early 1900s, people claimed they had seen anacondas 30 feet and longer, but these assertions have never been substantiated, even though the Wildlife Conservation Society has offered a $50,000 prize for the capture of any snake 30 feet or longer.
Back in 1906, South American explorer, adventurer and surveyor Colonel Percy Howard Fawcett, who led numerous expeditions to Brazil and Bolivia in the early 1900s, wrote in his journal that he had shot and killed an anaconda that was 62 feet long from head to tail. But this report was never verified in any way, though Fawcett’s writings are generally considered honest and accurate.
Incidentally, Colonel Fawcett disappeared with his son and his son’s friend in the Mato Grosso province of Brazil in 1925. Their remains have never been found.
Nevertheless, people continue to report sighting immense anacondas, some of which over 100 feet long; one was even close to 150 feet in length! These reports are hard to take seriously, of course. They may as well be reporting the existence of dinosaurs!
Could Titanoboa still exist on the earth? If a giant snake, 30, 40, 50 feet or longer exists, then it would probably be in the rain forest of South America, much of which is still unexplored, though that great mass of vegetation is diminishing quickly due to deforestation.
Perhaps it is more believable to consider the possibility that an intermediate species of snake, one connecting Titanoboa to the modern South American anaconda, exists in South America or, maybe some similar snake, in another tropical locale, perhaps Equatorial Africa or parts of Indonesia. Maybe somebody will find such a marvelous creature one of these days. Most nature buffs would probably hope so!
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© 2012 Kelley