Thursday, February 05, 2009


...the finding still has "some potentially scary implications for what we're doing to the climate today"

Several pieces of vertebrae and ribs have been discovered by paleontologists, fossilized skeletal remains of a serpent. The snake's bones are gigantic, suggesting it may be enormous as Malcolm Ritter writes for the Associated Press:
Graduate students unwrapping the fossils "realized they were looking at the bones of a snake. Not only a snake, but a really big snake."

So they quickly consulted the skeleton of a 17-foot anaconda for comparison. A backbone from that creature is about the size of a silver dollar, Bloch said, while a backbone from Titanoboa is "the size of a large Florida grapefruit."
They estimate that, based upon the bones compared to modern snakes, that the beast was over forty feet long. To help visualize this, the evil monster snake in the Anaconda movies was 40 feet long.

In determining the size of this creature, the scientists are on a lot better footing than the ones who claim one claw of a scorpion determines the entire size of the arthropod (as I mocked in a story a few months back), but that doesn't mean the wild speculation can't happen in this story.
While related to modern boa constrictors, it behaved more like an anaconda and spent almost all its time in the water, Head said. It could slither on land as well as swim.
Given the behavior of really big snakes in modern times, that's not an unreasonable guess but that's all it is, and this is presented as absolute fact. Whether the scientist was so certain or the AP writer just thought his ambiguities were too dull and spiced up the story a bit by making the quote seem more certain is unclear.

And, naturally, the story couldn't be complete without a global warming warning: giant snakes are on the way! It's getting warmer, we'll be eaten soon! Still, if you dig through all the nonsense you can bring up some interesting facts. This was a really huge snake, and it destroys the preconceptions about how big such a creature could get. It was common enough that they found two dozen different fossilized remains (bits of snakes), and they still haven't found a complete skeleton yet.

Without the skull they don't really know much about the creature's diet or manner of eating, it probably was a meat eating constrictor (they've yet to find a plant eating reptile, and all the snakes so far this large have been constrictors). It probably doesn't have poison because that's very unusual in large snakes. Perhaps they'll find more, I hope so.

*UPDATE: I should clarify, there are reptiles that eat plants (turtles and iguana, for example). There are no herbivorous snakes to my knowledge.

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