Fossil range: Paleocene
60–58 Ma
Titanoboa cerrejonensis cientificos
Titanoboa vertebrae (top & middle), Anaconda vertebrae (bottom).
Scientific classification
















Titanoboa Head, 2009


  • T. cerrejonensis (type)
"It’s the biggest snake the world has ever known,"
Jason Head, a paleontologist at the University of Toronto Mississauga and part of an international team who discovered and identified the fossilized snake bones.

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.



Various vertebrate from T. cerrejonensis

Studying titanoboa

Jonathan Bloch (center) UF vertebrate paleontologist compares the vertebrae.

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.


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.


Anaconda + titanoboa vert1

Vertebrate of a modern anaconda (white), compared to the vertebrate of Titanoboa.

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.[1]

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).[7]


In 2009, the fossils of 28 individual T. cerrejonensis were announced to have been found in the coal mines of Cerrejón in La Guajira, Colombia.[2][1] Prior to this discovery, few fossils of Paleocene-epoch vertebrates had been found in ancient tropical environments of South America.[8]The snake was discovered on an expedition by a team of international scientists led by Jonathan Bloch, a University of Florida vertebrate paleontologist, and Carlos Jaramillo, a paleobotanist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.[9]


Titanoboa cerrejonensis

Artist's rendering of Titanoboa cerrejonensis that demonstrates the great snake's size.

Because snakes are Ectotherm|ectothermic, the discovery implies that the tropics, the creature's habitat, must have been warmer than previously thought. By comparing this animal's size to that of modern tropical snakes, and extrapolating from a measured curve of size to mean annual temperature, paleontologists were able to calculate that the average ambient temperature approximated 90 °F (30 °C).[10][11] If the temperature had been less than that, the snake would not have been able to survive.[10][12][2][1] The warmer climate of the Earth during the time of T. cerrejonensis allowed cold-blooded snakes to attain much larger sizes than modern snakes.[13] For example, of ectothermic animals today, larger ones are found in the tropics where it is hottest, and smaller ones are found farther from the equator.[3]


Along with the over two dozen individual Titanoboa specimens that were uncovered in the El Cerrejon coal mine were the fossilized remains of turtles and crocodilians, which were most likely preyed upon by Titanoboa.

See AlsoEdit

Prehistoric snakes


  1. ^ a b c d Head, Jason J.; Jonathan I. Bloch, Alexander K. Hastings, Jason R. Bourque, Edwin A. Cadena, Fabiany A. Herrera, P. David Polly, and Carlos A. Jaramillo. "Giant boid snake from the paleocene neotropics reveals hotter past equatorial temperatures.". 'Nature' 457: 715–718. Retrieved on 2009-02-05. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Kwok, Roberta (4 February 2009). "Scientists find world's biggest snake". Nature. Retrieved on 2009-02-04. 
  3. ^ a b "Science Daily: At 2,500 Pounds And 43 Feet, Prehistoric Snake Is Largest On Record". ScienceDaily. 2009-02-04. Retrieved on 2009-02-06. 
  4. ^ a b " | Ancient, gargantuan snakes ate crocs for breakfast". Retrieved on 2009-02-07. 
  5. ^ McIlroy, Anne (2009-02-05). "Titanoboa made anaconda look like a garter snake". Science. Archived from the original on 2009-02-05. Retrieved on 2009-02-06. 
  6. ^ Dunham, Will (2009-02-04). "Titanic ancient snake was as long as Tyrannosaurus". Reuters UK. Retrieved on 2009-02-06. 
  7. ^ S. Blair Hedges (August 4, 2008). "At the lower size limit in snakes: two new species of threadsnakes (Squamata: Leptotyphlopidae: Leptotyphlops) from the Lesser Antilles" (PDF). Zootaxa 1841: 1–30. Retrieved on 2008-08-04. 
  8. ^ Maugh II, Thomas H. (4 February 2009). "Fossil of 43-foot super snake Titanoboa found in Colombia". Los Angeles Times.,0,6550292.story. Retrieved on 2009-02-04. 
  9. ^ "At 2,500 Pounds And 43 Feet, Prehistoric Snake Is Largest On Record". Science Daily. February 4, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-02-04. 
  10. ^ a b Joyce, Christopher (5 February 2009). "1-Ton Snakes Once Slithered In The Tropics". NPR. Retrieved on 2009-02-05. 
  11. ^ "ScienceDirect - Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology : Climate model sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 levels in the Early–Middle Paleogene". Retrieved on 2009-02-07. 
  12. ^ "ScienceDirect - Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology : Climate model sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 levels in the Early–Middle Paleogene". Retrieved on 2009-02-07.
  13. ^ Makarieva, A. M.; Victor G. Gorshkov and Bai-Lian Li (2005-09-14). "Gigantism, temperature and metabolic rate in terrestrial poikilotherms". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 272: 2325–2328. Retrieved on 2009-02-07. 

External linksEdit

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