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Titanoboa, meaning "titanic boa",[1] is an extinct genus of snake that lived approximately 60 to 58 million years ago, during the Paleocene epoch, (approximately 60-58 million years ago)[2] a 10-million-year period immediately following the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event that wiped out the majority of terrestrial life, including the dinosaurs. After the mass extinction event, Titanoboa was, for the majority of the Paleocene epoch, the largest non-marine vertebrate. [3][2]

The only known species is the Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake ever discovered at an estimated 43 feet long.[2] To date the scientists have identified about 180 different bones, mainly vertebrae and costae (rib bones) belonging to 28 individual specimens from a cache of fossils excavated from El Cerrejon coal mine in northern Colombia. The prepped fossils were later revealed in early 2007 at the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida. However, this is not the first occurence of large snake fossils that have been discovered in South America before. An example would be Madtsoia bai, a huge constrictor known from fossils discovered in Argentina in the mid 1930s. This particular species was believed to be up to 12 meters long, huge by modern snake standards but still 20% smaller than Titanoboa.

The find not only sheds new light on snake evolution; it also provides telling insights on climate. Because Titanoboa cerrejonensis was cold-blooded, the tropical climate that it lived in had to be 6 to 8 degrees warmer than it is today for a snake that large to survive. Along with the discovery of Titanoboa, the fossilized remains of turtles and crocodiles that the team excavated were probably the giant snake's primary diet.

DiscoveryEdit

The fossils were originally uncovered in the Cerrejon Coal Mine in Northern Colombia, from the Cerrejon Formation, and dozens of speciemns have been unearthed since. The original expedition was co-organized by Carlos Jaramillo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History.

Fossil hunting is usually difficult in the forest-covered tropics because of the lack of exposed rock.

FossilsEdit

Approximately 180 vertebrate and rib fossils that came from about two dozen individual Titanoboa Cerrejonensis snakes have been uncovered. No fossils of the skull have been found yet.

The ten centimeter vertebrae are about twice the width of the largest modern snake, taken from a 19.5ft (6m) anaconda.

SizeEdit

Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, worked with David Polly, a paleontologist at the University of Indiana, to estimate the snake’s length and mass by determining the relationship between body size and vertebral size in living snakes and using that relationship to figure out body size of the fossil snake based on its vertebrae.

By comparing the sizes and shapes of its fossilized vertebrae to those of extant snakes, researchers estimated that the T. cerrejonensis reached a maximum length of 13 to 14 meters (42 to 45 ft),[4] weighed about weighed about 1,135 kilograms,[1] and measured about 1 meter (40 in) in diameter at the thickest part of the body.[5][6]

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

Size comparisonEdit

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).

LocationEdit

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