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Science

Largest Prehistoric Snake On Record Discovered In Colombia 70

Posted by timothy
from the must-have-made-a-lot-of-steaks dept.
minimen writes "Scientists have recovered fossils of a 60-million-year-old South American snake. Named Titanoboa cerrejonensis by its discoverers, the size of the snake's vertebrae suggest it weighed 1140 kg (2,500 pounds) and measured 13 meters (42.7 feet) nose to tail tip. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest snake ever measured was 10 meters (33 feet) in length. The heaviest snake, a python, weighed 183 kilograms (403 pounds)."
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Largest Prehistoric Snake On Record Discovered In Colombia

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  • by pavon (30274) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @03:25PM (#26728519)

    I don't believe it :P

  • by Kligat (1244968) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @03:26PM (#26728525)
    Was it discovered at Amelia Earhart's crash site?
  • Slashdotted, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by internerdj (1319281) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @03:30PM (#26728581)
    but the article I read this morning attributed the size to a warmer period of time in Earth's history. It said we would have to worry about this type of thing if global warming continued except for the fact that we have destroyed the natural habitat for giant snakes. I'm not sure whether to cheer for ecological catastrophy or not...
    • Come on, the way you started out with the whole bit about the warmer Earth, I was expecting a string of sophomoric jokes about how snakes started getting smaller as Earth cooled, making numerous not-so-subtle references to shrinkage! You had to ruin it by being all serious and such! :-)

      • It's a well known fact that cold temperatures are (or rather, aaaargh) caused by increasing numbers of pirates.

        Bigger snakes are much easier to hit with a broadside, me hearties. Coincidence? I think not.

        Consider your foolish theory refuted, matey.

        • As the snake gets longer, it becomes easier for it to crash into itself or into a wall while avoiding itself. Those apples become so much harder to gather.

    • Re:Slashdotted, (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bearhouse (1034238) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @04:09PM (#26729051)

      Well, we're unfortunately pretty good at exterminating megafauna, regardless of climate & habitat. It's the superbugs we're breeding and/or spreading around the planet that worry me.

      You're right about the article, tho. interesting:

      'Paleontologists have long known of a rough correlation between an age's temperature and the size of its poikilotherms (cold-blooded creatures). Over geological time, as ages get warmer, so does the upper size limit on poikilotherms.

      "There are many ways the anatomy of a species is correlated with its environment on broad scales," Polly said. "If we understand these correlations better, we will know more about how climate and climate change affect species, as well as how we can infer things about past climates from the morphology of the species that lived back then."

      Assuming the Earth today is not particularly unusual, Head and Dr Jonathan Bloch, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, estimated a snake of Titanoboa's size would have required an average annual temperature of 30 to 34ÂC (86 to 93 F) to survive. By comparison, the average yearly temperature of today's Cartagena, a Colombian coastal city, is about 28ÂC.

      "Tropical ecosystems of South America were surprisingly different 60 million years ago," said Bloch. "It was a rainforest, like today, but it was even hotter and the cold-blooded reptiles were all substantially larger. The result was, among other things, the largest snakes the world has ever seen... and hopefully ever will."

      "The temperature estimation shows that a tropical rainforest, like Cerrejon, lived at a temperature of 32ÂC, five degrees above the upper limit of temperature for tropical rainforest in modern times," said Carlos Jaramillo, a palaeobotanist ad the Smithsonian Topical Research Institute. "These data challenge the view that tropical vegetation lives near its climatic optimum and it has profound implications in understanding the effect of current global warming on tropical plants."'

      • by jd (1658)

        If you factor in other cold-blooded creatures (lawyers, politicians) and consider their bank balances to be a part of their mass, the average size of megafauna probably hasn't changed much.

  • Badger badger badger (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @03:33PM (#26728633) Homepage Journal

    A snaaaaake! A snaaaaake!

    Seriously, it's scary when real-life produces a more terrifying monster than Hollywood. This creature could have devoured elephants, and likely considered their actual diet (giant crocodiles) a light snack.

    I guess it's the same with Jaws and other Hollywood classics, though. Megalodons were capable of fitting five upright adult humans between its jaws, the sharks of Hollywood could barely manage a leg.

    The largest eagles that could fly had 15'-17' wingspans - Hitchcock's Birds were nothing in comparison.

    And Indricotherium transsouralicum, at twenty tonnes, was definitely nastier than many of the beasties in Jurassic Park.

    Is it that the real-life counterparts to the horrors of scriptwriter imagination are too far beyond human comprehension? Too far beyond budget constraints? Or too big to fit on the cinema screens?

    • It's the same reason shit like Galactus is retarded.
      Uber monster isn't interesting if it just destroys your pathetic humans instantly.

      And blue whale still wins.

    • by Abreu (173023) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @04:33PM (#26729299)

      This creature could have devoured elephants

      Really? I thought it was a hat...

    • by Fluffeh (1273756)

      Is it that the real-life counterparts to the horrors of scriptwriter imagination are too far beyond human comprehension? Too far beyond budget constraints? Or too big to fit on the cinema screens?

      It's more than people today on average just don't get frightened by something simply being big. Also, it's stale. Have a look through the "classics" section of your local dvd store, or troll through imdb.com for a while to and see just how many older movies there are about giant this, and giant that.

      Cinema caters to the needs and wants of the moviegoer and currently for the most part, they want the "big bad beastie" to be intelligent (often more intelligent than the initial plot suggests), quite imperv

    • Or not scary enough (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @05:39PM (#26730061) Journal

      Well, if you consider that:

      - A T-Rex by modern estimates can be as low as 5m/s (11 mph) and by other estimates a sprint of over 10m/s would produce fatal forces in its bones. It only had to chase down animals his own size, which also waddled slowly.

      - the Indricotherium Transsouralicum that you mention was basically an overly massive giraffe. Ok, technically a rhino which had evolved to fill the same niche as a giraffe. It was a herbivore which ate leaves off trees. Also you probably could outrun him too.

      - you'd probably be as impractical a prey for a Megalodon as it would be for a normal shark to hunt sardines. Marine animals which feed on stuff as disproportionately small compared to their own size, do so by filtering them out of the water (see the whale, for example), not by chasing them individually and chewing them to bits. So for a Megalodon you'd probably not even register as an interesting prey. It fed on similarly overgrown things.

      A lot of the things nature produced just aren't as scary as you seem think. A movie about a battleship-sized shark that completely ignores the hero, or about a T-Rex that can be outrun even at a jogging or marathon pace, well, just wouldn't be much of a horror. A herd of small fast velociraptors is actually scarier by far.

      • Also you probably could outrun him too.

        You say it's based on a Rhino? Rhinos move faster than you might think. With luck and timing you might be able to out turn one. If you're lucky.

        • It's based on the rhino in the same way you're based on a monkey. It doesn't mean it's the same animal. It's a super-massive giraffe which evolved out of a rhino ancestor.

          The muscle to weight ratio won't be the same as for a rhino, hence expect acceleration and speed to be different. The very long neck also probably doesn't help with either acceleration or turning (still acceleration), because of _torque_. You accelerate too fast in either direction and all that mass and size combine to something bone-snapp

  • Derrick (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But could it patch up wounded soldiers?

  • This snake reminds me of the sandworms of Dune.
    • Not the great worms... This snake's size just matches that of a "Little Maker" i.e. small ones producing "Water of Life"...
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @03:43PM (#26728759)

    But if a Snake like that told me to eat the forbidden fruit, I would.

  • D&D (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @04:09PM (#26729057)
    I think my level 12 wizard fought this in a D&D campaign, if I recall it failed it's fort save and was disintegrated. Though obviously that didn't happen to this one as disintegration leaves only dust as everyone knows.
    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      I think my level 12 wizard fought this in a D&D campaign, if I recall it failed it's fort save and was disintegrated. Though obviously that didn't happen to this one as disintegration leaves only dust as everyone knows.

      Thanks so much for coming out. Don't call us, we'll call you.

      • He may be a totally sad dweeb but he's telling the truth. I should know, I was there. In fact I was the GM.
        • by H0p313ss (811249)

          He may be a totally sad dweeb but he's telling the truth. I should know, I was there. In fact I was the GM.

          Oh I believe you both, I played my share of D&D back in the day! But I don't post the results to Slashdot...

  • by Bob-taro (996889) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @04:19PM (#26729143)
    I'm not saying this isn't interesting or that the estimates are completely worthless, but we find some fossilized snake vertebrae, make an educated guess as to what part of the the snake they came from, extrapolate based on modern snake proportions the size and weight of the entire snake, then estimate the temperature of this snake's original environment based on that size. I'm no biologist, so maybe it's more accurate than it sounds, but it seems there is a pretty significant margin of error at each step, not to mention a lot of assumptions.
    • by jd (1658) <imipak@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday February 04, 2009 @04:58PM (#26729591) Homepage Journal

      Well, the BBC's article reports that they found bones from twelve snakes, so it's a fair assumption that they found quite a number of bones and therefore have a good idea of what part of the snake they are from.

      Estimating the size does assume that you've some idea of how bones scale, but there are plenty of examples of modern snakes that range from the very small to the very large, so there should be a fair amount of data on this. The key question on this is whether they measured multiple data points or just one or two. If they measured a large number of data points and they all scale by the amounts predicted if modern vertebrae are a good indicator, then it's safe to say that modern vertebrae are indeed a good indicator, and that the resulting size is probably correct.

      The temperature is slightly easier. Anything cold-blooded has to rely on external heat sources to survive. The surface area will tell you how quickly heat can be absorbed, but also how quickly heat will be lost. If a snake drops below a critical temperature, it ceases to be active. Even colder, it cannot digest food and can even rot. The ambient temperature must have been high enough for the snake to thrive in the warmer months and at least endure when it got cold.

      However, there will be margins of error for all of these calculations. There is also no ceiling on the margin of error for temperature (these snakes can't have been larger than the maximum size that could survive, but could always be smaller by any amount). The maximum size of this species, under the conditions of the time, are therefore unknown, and certainly can't be assumed to be remotely close to the maximum size of the species overall.

      In fact, given that the giant crocodiles of about that time were around 40' long and that these snakes probably ate such crocodiles, it would not be at all unreasonable to guess that these were juveniles rather than full-grown. This would also go a long way to explaining why there were so many in one spot. Snakes are not known for being social animals.

      If we assume these were indeed juveniles, full-grown snakes of this species might easily have been in the 60-80' range. Of course, if we could just find the nearest living relative and back out all the modern genetic patches, we could find out.

      • by colmore (56499)

        As is usually the case with science articles:

        While there's a chance the researchers are in error, it is less than the chance that random sniping from the internet is correct.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      These type of determination are usually pretty good. However new facts can change it or confirm it. In this case the data is being extrapolated from other fossils; making the estimates even more accurate.

    • by Fluffeh (1273756)

      I'm no biologist, so maybe it's more accurate than it sounds, but it seems there is a pretty significant margin of error at each step, not to mention a lot of assumptions.

      Look, stop making so many assumptions about other people's assumptions. It leads to a high margin of error at a possible large number of steps.

      *cough*

  • by MikeRT (947531)
    Still smaller than mine!
  • I thought the Garden of Eden was somewhere in the Middle East.
  • If there were one or two left, those RIAA douchebags would have something to ride to court the next time they go after the pension of some disabled war vet.

  • In Soviet Russia, giant snake eat girl. In decadent West...

  • Did the fossils have marks near the heart-lung area, perhaps reminiscent of several chainsaw wounds?
  • judging by the size of many normal household critters down here

    You don't ever want to see a giant cockroach flying straight at you as you stumble to the bathroom half asleep at 3 AM

  • http://www.researchportal.be/en/projects.pdf?classifications=B330_iwDisciplineCode&page=0&ordering=title&descending=false&itemsPerPage=50 [researchportal.be]

    The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM,55Ma) marks the onset of the Eocene and is characterised by a sudden worldwide temperature increase of ~5oC, lasting for ~100.000 years. The release of large quantities of methane from the seafloor probably played a key role in this event, but the primary cause is unclear.

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v446/n7132/abs/nature05591.html [nature.com]

    The Eocene and Oligocene epochs (approx 55 to 23 million years ago) comprise a critical phase in Earth history. An array of geological records supported by climate modeling indicates a profound shift in global climate during this interval, from a state that was largely free of polar ice caps to one in which ice sheets on Antarctica approached their modern size. However, the early glaciation history of the Northern Hemisphere is a subject of controversy.

    If we didn't have those blasted ice caps hanging over our heads, the modern era of global warming wouldn't be half so terrifying, and we could better focus our energies on fleeing the fauna.

  • If the earth was 10C more back then... and we're near a climate change... we'll see them back soon!! Prepare yourself !!

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