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Largest Prehistoric Snake On Record Discovered In Colombia

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the must-have-made-a-lot-of-steaks dept.

Science 70

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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70 comments

Something even more bloated than Python? (4, Funny)

pavon (30274) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728519)

I don't believe it :P

Ruby is *much* lighter! (2, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728699)

The biggest ruby [answerbag.com] is just 8.2 lbs, compared to the 403 lbs python.

Re:Ruby is *much* lighter! (4, Funny)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729227)

And Java [wikipedia.org] covers 126,700 sq km!

Re:Ruby is *much* lighter! (1)

alexborges (313924) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729351)

Yeah... they make great coffee and a really boring devel environment.

Re:Ruby is *much* lighter! (2, Funny)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730301)

How else do you sell more coffee.

Re:Ruby is *much* lighter! (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733517)

Back in the days of early Java, wasn't the joke about it something like they named it Java because when you downloaded an applet on your blazing fast 14.4 or 28.8 modem, you could go make a cup of coffee, come back and drink it, and you would be ready to go by the time your done.

I think your right, it was to sell more coffee.

First snake on a plane (4, Funny)

Kligat (1244968) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728525)

Was it discovered at Amelia Earhart's crash site?

Re:First snake on a plane (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728657)

No, but it was found on the Airbus A400.

Re:First snake on a plane (1)

yada21 (1042762) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728783)

Stick 2 wing's on it and it IS an A400!

Re:First snake on a plane (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729585)

Stick some wings on that apostrophe, 'cuz it needs to fly away. You don't use an apostrophe to pluralize.

Re:First snake on a plane (2, Funny)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729633)

Why bother with wings? The snake can devour it. How many calories are in an apostrophe anyway?

Re:First snake on a plane (1)

flewp (458359) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733069)

That depends on if it's a regular Library of Congress or Library of Congress Lite.

Re:First snake on a plane (1)

Crashspeeder (1468723) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728809)

Titanoboa Cerrejonensis on a Plane? Doesn't roll off the tongue. I'm not sure Samuel L. Jackson would like the line "I've had it with these motherfucking Titanoboa Cerrejonensis on this motherfucking plane!"

Re:First snake on a plane (3, Funny)

GrayCalx (597428) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729267)

"Well we'd have to be talkin' about one charming motherfuckin' Titanoboa Cerrejonensis."

Re:First snake on a plane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26734491)

Awesome.

The record for the world's largest *living* snake (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26728531)

continues to be held in my pants.

Re:The record for the world's largest *living* sna (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26728777)

Aren't you afraid it's going to bite your tiny penis?

Re:The record for the world's largest *living* sna (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26730203)

best thing I have read all day

Re:The record for the world's largest *living* sna (3, Funny)

iMac Were (911261) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728865)

I suppose the inside of your ass is, technically speaking, inside your pants. Is that what you meant, sweetie?

Poor guy... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729461)

You never get laid, do you? Because there has never existed a living being with any body cavity big enough to accommodate something that's 13 meters (42.7 feet) in length or 183 kilograms (403 pounds) in mass...

Slashdotted, (2, Interesting)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#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...

Re:Slashdotted, (1)

Captain Spam (66120) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729007)

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! :-)

Re:Slashdotted, (0)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730741)

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.

Re:Slashdotted, (1)

TehZorroness (1104427) | more than 5 years ago | (#26732295)

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, (3, Informative)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#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."'

Re:Slashdotted, (1)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729323)

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 (2, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728633)

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?

Re:Badger badger badger (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#26728715)

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.

Re:Badger badger badger (5, Funny)

Abreu (173023) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729299)

This creature could have devoured elephants

Really? I thought it was a hat...

Re:Badger badger badger (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729919)

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 impervious to damage (needs to be shot many times but still be very powerful), needs a trick that no one thought it could do and quite often, it needs to be amazingly fast and agile.

Or not scary enough (3, Interesting)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730061)

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.

Re:Or not scary enough (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730669)

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.

Based != same animal (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 5 years ago | (#26732761)

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-snapping. Basically it could probably trot menacingly your way at best, but nothing you couldn't outsprint or outturn.

But even that's not the main point. The main point is: herbivore. Unless you manage to make it feel majorly threatened, it'll leave you alone. And at that size, I'd say you won't register as a major threat. Same as giraffes don't go hunting rats to pass the time. So you'd have the darned thing peacefully munching leaves while ignoring you. Not quite the most thrilling scenario for a horror movie, that's all I'm saying ;)

Derrick (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26728645)

But could it patch up wounded soldiers?

Largest Prehistoric Snake On Record Discovered... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26728703)

in my pants

D&D (4, Funny)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:D&D (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729095)

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.

Re:D&D (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730771)

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.

Re:D&D (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | more than 5 years ago | (#26734067)

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...

Cumulative estimation error (3, Insightful)

Bob-taro (996889) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Cumulative estimation error (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729279)

The more incredible-sounding (yet plausible-sounding) a scientist make his theory, the more funding he gets.

Just sayin'.

Re:Cumulative estimation error (4, Interesting)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729591)

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.

Re:Cumulative estimation error (1)

colmore (56499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26730121)

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.

Re:Cumulative estimation error (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729679)

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.

Re:Cumulative estimation error (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729949)

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*

Thus spake Ice Cube (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26729489)

"Its snakes out there this big???!!!"

Too bad it's extinct (0, Offtopic)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 5 years ago | (#26729811)

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.

World's largest penis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26732125)

was measured at 13.5 inches( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_penis#Size ) At least the number matches even if the unit doesn't.

It might be the largest _prehistoric_ snake... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26732191)

but I am the proud owner of the largest _modern_ snake. ;)

Haven't we seen this recently? (1)

wasmoke (1055116) | more than 5 years ago | (#26732531)

Did the fossils have marks near the heart-lung area, perhaps reminiscent of several chainsaw wounds?

I am not surprised (1)

Moe1975 (885721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26732981)

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

Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (1)

epine (68316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26733829)

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.

Interesting... (1)

GerardAtJob (1245980) | more than 5 years ago | (#26735959)

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

What, no Hugh Heffner jokes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26779063)

eom

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