Biggest Snake Discovered; Was Longer Than a Bus

February 4, 2009

The world's biggest snake was a massive anaconda-like beast that slithered through steamy tropical rain forests about 60 million years ago, says a new study that describes the ancient giant.

(See pictures of the ancient giant and other huge snakes and watch video.)

Fossils found in northeastern Colombia's Cerrejon coal mine indicate the reptile, dubbed Titanoboa cerrejonesis, was at least 42 feet (13 meters) long and weighed 2,500 pounds (1,135 kilograms).

"That's longer than a city bus and … heavier than a car," said lead study author Jason Head, a fossil-snake expert at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada and a research associate with the Smithsonian Institution.

Previously the biggest snake known was Gigantophis garstini, which was 36 to 38 feet (11 to 11.6 meters) long. That snake lived in North Africa about 40 million years ago.

Hans-Dieter Sues, associate director for research and collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, was not involved with the study but has seen the snake fossils.

Sues noted that humans would stand no chance against one of these giants, which killed their prey by slow suffocation.

"Given the sheer size—the sheer cross-section of that snake—it would be probably like one of those devices they use to crush old cars in a junkyard," Sues said.

In addition, the snake's heft indicates that it lived when the tropics were much warmer than they are today, a find that holds potential implications for theories of once and future climate change.

Biggest Snake Needed the Heat

Scientists know there's a link between a snake's body size, how fast it uses and produces energy, and climate.

(Related: "World's Smallest Snake Discovered, Study Says" [August 3, 20008].)

Continued on Next Page >>


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