The Legend of the 40-Foot Snake: Titanoboa
By: Joseph Schaefer
Imagine a snake half the length of a basketball court. This giant serpent looked something like a modern-day boa constrictor, but behaved more like today’s water-dwelling anaconda. The thickest part of its body would be nearly as high as a man’s waist.
It was the largest snake ever, and if its shocking size alone wasn’t enough to dazzle, the fact of its existence may have implications for understanding the history of life on earth and possibly even for anticipating the future.
Fifty-eight million years ago, a few million years after the fall of the dinosaurs, lived the Titanoboa cerrejonensis snake. This king, more than 40 feet long and weighing more than a ton inhabited Cerrejón, a vast, swampy jungle where everything was hotter, wetter and bigger than it is today.
For the past several years, the Titanoboa researchers and other experts have been trying to understand and model the climate that the giant snake lived in.
Titanoboa was a coldblooded animal whose body temperature depended on that of its habitat. Reptiles can grow bigger in warmer climates, where they can absorb enough energy to maintain a necessary metabolic rate. That’s why insects, reptiles and amphibians tend to be larger in the tropics than in the temperate zone. In this view, extraordinary heat is what made the snake a monster. The same principle would explain why ancient turtles and lungfish of Cerrejón were, like Titanoboa, much larger than their modern relatives.
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