Titanoboa-The largest snake the world has ever known
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Titanoboa-The largest snake the world has ever known

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Description


In the lowland tropics of northern Colombia, 60 miles from the Caribbean coast, Cerrejón is an empty, forbidding, seemingly endless horizon of dusty outback, stripped of vegetation and crisscrossed with dirt roads that lead to enormous pits 15 miles in circumference. It is one of the world’s largest coal operations, covering an area larger than Washington, D.C. and employing some 10,000 workers. The multinational corporation that runs the mine, Carbones del Cerrejón Limited, extracted 31.5 million tons of coal last year alone.


Titanoboa_cerrejonensis


Fifty-eight million years ago, a few million years after the fall of the dinosaurs, Cerrejón was an immense, swampy jungle where everything was hotter, wetter and bigger than it is today. The trees had wider leaves, indicating greater precipitation—more than 150 inches of rain per year, compared with 80 inches for the Amazon now. Mean temperatures may have hovered in the mid- to high-80s Fahrenheit or higher. Deep water from north-flowing rivers swirled around stands of palm trees, hardwoods, occasional hummocks of earth and decaying vegetation. Mud from the flood plain periodically coated, covered and compressed the dead leaves, branches and animal carcasses in steaming layers of decomposing muck dozens of feet thick.

Anaconda_eating

 

The largest snake the world has ever known - as long as a school bus and as heavy as a small car - ruled tropical ecosystems only 6 million years after the demise of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, according to a new discovery published in the journal Nature.

copenhagen-zoo-snake-bus-big


Previously, the largest known snake was Gigantophis, which lived about 39 million years ago in Egypt and was at least 40 feet long.

The largest eight of the 28 T. cerrejonensis snakes found were between 13 and 14 metres (43 and 46 ft) in length. In comparison, the largest extant snakes are the Python reticulatus, which measures about 9 metres (30 ft) long, and the anaconda, which measures about 11 metres (36 ft) long[4] 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 centimeters (4 in).

 

ancient_snakes_and_crocodiles


Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga and the paper's senior author, described Titanoboa this way: "The snake's body was so wide that if it were moving down the hall and decided to come into my office to eat me, it would literally have to squeeze through the door."

Besides tipping the scales at an estimated 1.25 tons, the snake lived during the Paleocene Epoch, a 10-million-year period immediately following the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, Bloch said.

Cerrejón also happens to be one of the world’s richest, most important fossil deposits, providing scientists with a unique snapshot of the geological moment when the dinosaurs had just disappeared and a new environment was emerging. “Cerrejón is the best, and probably the only, window on a complete ancient tropical ecosystem anywhere in the world,” said Carlos Jaramillo, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “The plants, the animals, everything. We have it all, and you can’t find it anywhere else in the tropics.”

The river basin held turtles with shells twice the size of manhole covers and crocodile kin—at least three different species—more than a dozen feet long. And there were seven-foot-long lungfish, two to three times the size of their modern Amazon cousins.

 

The lord of this jungle was a truly spectacular creature—a snake more than 40 feet long and weighing more than a ton. This giant serpent looked something like a modern-day boa constrictor, but behaved more like today’s water-dwelling anaconda. It was a swamp denizen and a fearsome predator, able to eat any animal that caught its eye. The thickest part of its body would be nearly as high as a man’s waist. Scientists call it Titanoboa cerrejonensis.


It was the largest snake ever, and if its astounding size alone wasn’t enough to dazzle the most sunburned fossil hunter, the fact of its existence may have implications for understanding the history of life on earth and possibly even for anticipating the future.

Titanoboa is now the star of “Titanoboa: Monster Snake,” premiering April 1 on the Smithsonian Channel. Research on the snake and its environment continues, and I caught up with the Titanoboa team during the 2011 field season.

 

Titanoboa_New_York

Jonathan Bloch, a University of Florida paleontologist, and Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Nebraska, were crouched beneath a relentless tropical sun examining a set of Titanoboa remains with a Smithsonian Institution intern named Jorge Moreno-Bernal, who had discovered the fossil a few weeks earlier. All three were slathered with sunblock and carried heavy water bottles. They wore long-sleeved shirts and tramped around in heavy hiking boots on the shadeless moonscape whose ground cover was shaved away years ago by machinery.
“It’s probably an animal in the 30- to 35-foot range,” Bloch said of the new find, but size was not what he was thinking about. What had Bloch’s stomach aflutter on this brilliant Caribbean forenoon was lying in the shale five feet away.

The snake skull embraced by the Cerrejón shale mudstone was a piece of Titanoboa that Bloch, Head and their colleagues had been hoping to find for years. “It offers a whole new set of characteristics,” Bloch said. The skull will enhance researchers’ ability to compare Titanoboa to other snakes and figure out where it sits on the evolutionary tree. It will provide further information about its size and what it ate.
Even better, added Head, gesturing at the skeleton lying at his feet, “our hypothesis is that the skull matches the skeleton. We think it’s one animal.”

Anaconda_vs_caiman_lateral


Looking around the colossal mine, evidence of an ancient wilderness can be seen everywhere. Every time another feet-thick vein of coal is trucked away, an underlayer of mudstone is left behind, rich in the fossils of exotic leaves and plants and in the bones of fabulous creatures.

Most fossils, plant or animal, are found either in temperate climates or in isolated niches in the tropics, such as deserts or high altitudes, where wind blows away sand and stone to expose ancient remains. Other fossils near the Equator lie buried and inaccessible beneath millions of tons of soil and vegetation. At Cerrejón, the quest for coal had stripped away this shroud.

Titanoboa_cerrejonensis_cientificos

La Puente is a forbidding, naked surface of soft mudstone cut by gullies leading downslope to a lake filled with runoff and groundwater. The only vegetation is an occasional scraggly bush clinging to the scree. The pit shimmers at temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, while a hot wind blows constantly, with 25-mile-per-hour gusts. Methane fires belch periodically from the naked cliff face across the lake. Immense trucks can be spotted in the distance, driving loads of coal scooped up after blasting.

 

Habitat/Climate

The snake's gigantic dimensions are a sign that temperatures along the equator were once much hotter, Bloch said. Snakes and other cold-blooded animals are limited in body size by the ambient temperature of where they live.

"If you look at cold-blooded animals and their distribution on the planet today, the large ones are in the tropics, where it's hottest, and they become smaller the farther away they are from the equator," he said.

"Based on the snake's size, the team was able to calculate the mean annual temperature at equatorial South America 60 million years ago was about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 degrees warmer than today," Bloch said.

Because snakes are Ectotherm|ectothermic, the discovery implies that the tropics, the creature's habitat, must have been warmer than previously thought. By comparing this animal's size to that of modern tropical snakes, and extrapolating from a measured curve of size to mean annual temperature, paleontologists were able to calculate that the average ambient temperature approximated 90 °F (30 °C).If the temperature had been less than that, the snake would not have been able to survive.The warmer climate of the Earth during the time of T. cerrejonensis allowed cold-blooded snakes to attain much larger sizes than modern snakes.For example, of ectothermic animals today, larger ones are found in the tropics where it is hottest, and smaller ones are found farther from the equator.




Diet


Due to enormus size and the skeleton of this giant snake and based on the studies of the fosils, we may say that this enormus killing machice was basically feeding with prehistoric animals sort of "dinosaur eater" an "prehistoric anaconda"
The predator, which is related to a boa constrictor but actually behaved like an anaconda, lived in water and fed on fish, other titanoboas, and crocodiles (very, very large crocodiles).

 

Anaconda_eating


During the expedition, the scientists found many skeletons of giant turtles and extinct primitive crocodile relatives that likely were eaten by the snake
"Prior to our work, there had been no fossil vertebrates found between 65 million and 55 million years ago in tropical South America, leaving us with a very poor understanding of what life was like in the northern Neotropics," Bloch said. "Now we have a window into the time just after the dinosaurs went extinct and can actually see what the animals replacing them were like."

"Clearly this new fossil would have been part of the food-chain, both as predator and prey," said Bloch, who co-led the fossil-hunting expeditions to Cerrejon with Smithsonian paleobotanist Carlos Jaramillo. "Giant snakes today are known to eat crocodylians, and it is not much of a reach to say Cerrejonisuchus would have been a frequent meal for Titanoboa. Fossils of the two are often found side-by-side".



Interesting facts


Biggest snake ever found -measuring a maximum length of 12 to 15 m (40 to 50 ft).
Most of his time was living in water and fed on fish, other titanoboas and crocodiles ( large crocodiles).
Known as "dinosaurus eater".
The average ambient temperature where Titanoboa would have lived approximated 90 °F (30 °C).
"The snake's body was so wide that if it were moving down the hall and decided to come into my office to eat me, it would literally have to squeeze through the door." - Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Toronto.
Weight - an estimated 1.25 tons.







This days (n.r - March 22 - 2012) New York commuters arriving  at Grand Central Station were greeted by a monstrous sight: a 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound titanoboa snake.

Titanoboa_New_York_


This newly discovered species, known as titanoboa  (yes, the words "titan" and "boa" are in there), which lived 65 million years ago, is about to have its close-up. The New York City appearance is promoting an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in D.C. opening on March 30, which ties in to a TV special on the Smithsonian Channel called, what else, "Titanoboa: Monster Snake."

 

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Sources:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/How-Titanoboa-the-40-Foot-Long-Snake-Was-Found.html
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/upshot/monster-titanoboa-snake-invades-york-224358461.html
http://fossil.wikia.com/wiki/Titanoboa
http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/sciencestories/2009/titanoboa.htm
http://news.ufl.edu/2011/09/14/ancient-crocodile/ancientcrocodile1/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanoboa
http://jfsociety.org/
http://bioweb.wku.edu/faculty/huskey/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anakonda_verschlingt_Wasserschwein.jpg
http://www.moinid.com/2009/12/copenhagen-zoo-snake-bus
http://cedricoikari.deviantart.com/art/Wild-Monsters-Anaconda-95633738
http://naturesmightypictures.blogspot.com/2012/01/amazon-river.html
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