60-Second Science

Largest Snake Rattles Paleontology

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers announced the finding of the fossil remains of the largest snake that ever lived--possibly reaching 45 feet and 2,500 pounds. Steve Mirsky reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

Indiana Jones (“I hate snakes—I hate ‘em!”) would have totally despised a snake that lived some 60 million years ago. Because researchers working in Colombia have found the fossil remains of a snake that would have been up to 45 feet long, weighing in at perhaps 2,500 pounds. That makes it the biggest snake ever to have slithered across the Earth. The announcement appears in the February 5th issue of the journal Nature. The creature has been dubbed Titanoboa.

The fossil snake bones were found in an open-pit coal mine, along with its prey, which included turtles and crocodiles. Now, a snake this big could only live where the average temperature was between 30 and 34 degrees Celsius. So we gain info also about the climate at the time. Study leader Jason Head from the Smithsonian said, “The discovery of Titanoboa challenges our understanding of past climates and environments, as well as the biological limitations on the evolution of giant snakes. This shows how much more information about the history of Earth there is to glean from a resource like the reptile fossil record.”

—Steve Mirsky 

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