The Titanoboa is considered to be the largest snake species to have ever existed on Earth. It sends shivers down the spine but this particular animal no longer exists today. To meet him, we would have to go back to times when the world was very different. Ready to go back in time ?
The world of the Titanoboa
The Titanoboa lived during the Paleocene epoch, a time between 53 and 65 million years ago. The dinosaurs then just disappeared. This long period was not stable in temperature and humidity. It was marked by what has been called a Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) which occurred about 56 million years from us. It’s a short period in Earth’s history that saw the rapid release of an enormous amount of carbon into the atmosphere. This resulted in a sharp increase in temperature, plus 5 to 8°C in just 20,000 years. Continents and oceans were just beginning to look like they do today. Dense forests have developed in North America, and mangroves on the Australian continent. The fauna is very varied and among the animals of that time was the Titanoboa which lived in the rainforest where the average annual temperature is between 30 and 34°C.
What did the Titanoboa look like?
Scientists brought this gigantic snake to life from fossil remains. They estimate that its length was 13 meters on average, and could occasionally reach 15 meters. It was probably 1 meter wide. Its weight was also substantial, reaching an average of 1.1 tonnes, exceptionally 1.8 tonnes.
Researchers relate the Titanoboa to boa constrictors, very large snakes that can be found today in the wild on the American continent. They are known to compress their prey to kill them before consuming them. But these do not exceed 4.5 meters. The Titanoboa was therefore probably not poisonous. Some scientists have more precisely compared it to the anaconda, a semi-aquatic snake which also turns out to be a very good swimmer. The knowledge we develop is based on our findings. Currently, in the absence of other evidence, the Titanoboa is considered to have been Earth’s largest predator for at least 10 million years.
How do we know that the Titanoboa existed?
It was in 2009, in Colombia, that fossil remains of this animal were found. They were in a coal mine in La Puente Pit, on the Guajira Peninsula. The name of the mine, Cerrejón, inspired the scientific name of the snake which is Titanoboa cerrejonensis.
In this same place, remains of an extinct species of crocodiles have also been found. Their length is estimated at only 1.83 – 2.13 meters. As modern giant snakes feed on crocodiles, scientists conclude that it could be frequent food for the Titanoboa.
The reconstruction of extinct animals
The paleontologist participates in the excavations and takes samples of fossil organisms in the field, which he then studies in the laboratory. Today, new technologies are very useful for making 3D models and thus reconstructing the appearance of extinct animals. From the skeletal elements found, the scientists complete with their knowledge of life and its evolutions. They then add the muscles that greatly contribute to the final appearance of the animal. Obviously, the proportion and position of the viscera are more a matter of hypothesis and imagination. As for the color of the skin, the samples found can sometimes give precise information. Often, this is also a work of the imagination.
Photo credit: Ryan Quick