Sunday, February 15, 2009

Giant Titanoboa snake ruled the earth

February 5, 2009
Giant Titanoboa snake ruled the earth after the dinosaurs
The Titanoboa grew to 45ft or more
Lewis Smith, Environment Reporter

A titanic snake that snacked on crocodiles and was longer than a London bus has been identified as the top predator to walk, or at least slither, the land when the dinosaurs disappeared.

It weighed 1.25 tonnes and with a length of 45 feet or more it would have been able to take on and eat pretty much any other animal it came across.

The newly discovered type of snake, named Titanoboa in honour of its immense size, was for 10 million years the largest land predator on earth.

At least 28 individual specimens have been uncovered in Colombia and, with all of them being around 40 feet long, researchers said it is likely the species could have reached much further than 45 feet.

Fossils recovered from the site over the last five years have given researchers the most detailed picture yet of life in tropical South America in the years following the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

Alongside the enormous snakes, which were so wide it would have been a squeeze for them to get through a doorway, were fossils of turtles and giant crocodile-like dyrosaurs.

Other fossil finds, including fish, gastropods and plants such as palms, are providing researchers with their first glimpses of the tropical ecosystem that laid the foundations for the Amazon forest.

Jonathan Bloch, of the University of Florida, was one of the researchers who analysed the remains of the snake, the biggest that ever lived.

He said: “It was not only the biggest predator in the region, as far as we know, but it was the largest terrestrial vertebrate known on the face of the planet for at least 10 million years.

“It could have eaten pretty much anything that came its way. If we had to guess, it probably ate a lot of fish and crocodyliforms.

“It is possible that the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years opened up the opportunity for the evolution of another top-predator such as Titanoboa.”

He added: “Truly enormous snakes really spark people's imagination, but reality has exceeded the fantasies of Hollywood. The snake that tried to eat Jennifer Lopez in the movie Anaconda is not as big as the one we found.”

Carlos Jaramillo, of the Smithsonian Institution in Panama, said the specimens uncovered from the mine are likely to have been merely average in size, meaning that some individuals would have been much bigger.

The reticulated python, from South East Asia, is the longest living species recorded, according to Guinness World Records, with one individual reaching almost 33 feet long but the average length for the species is only 20 feet.

The size of the cold-blooded Titanoboa indicated to researchers that the tropical coastal river system it occupied would have been warmer than the tropics today. Using the snake’s proportions they worked out that the tropics 60 million years ago would have been about 32C, some 4C warmer than now.

Jason Head, of the University of Toronto in Canada and the Smithsonian Institution, said as the findings were published in the journal Nature: “The discovery of Titanoboa challenges our understanding of past climates and environments, as well as the biological limitations on the evolution of giant snakes.”

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