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10 Facts About Titanoboa

Everything You Need to Know About the World's Biggest Prehistoric Snake



Titanoboa (Wikimedia Commons)

Titanoboa was a true monster among snakes, about the size and weight of a school bus (and presumably a lot less fun to ride on). Here are 10 facts everyone should know about this gigantic prehistoric snake.

1. Titanoboa flourished five million years after the dinosaurs went extinct.

After the K/T Extinction, 65 million years ago, it took a few million years for terrestrial life on earth to replenish itself. Titanoboa (along with an assortment of prehistoric turtles and crocodiles) was one of the first plus-sized reptiles to reclaim the ecological niches left open by the demise of dinosaurs and marine reptiles at the end of the Cretaceous period.

2. Titanoboa looked like a boa constrictor, but hunted like a crocodile.

You might assume that the "titanic boa" behaved like a modern-day boa constrictor, wrapping itself around prey and squeezing tight until its victim suffocated. In fact, though, this giant snake probably slithered close to its lunch while half-submerged in the water, and then suddenly leaped, snapping its massive jaws onto its unfortunate victim's windpipe.

3. Until the discovery of Titanoboa, Gigantophis was the biggest prehistoric snake.

How the mighty have fallen. Until recently, the 33-foot-long, thousand-pound Gigantophis was hailed as the king of all snakes, and it has since been eclipsed by a reptile that predated it by 40 million years. Not that Gigantophis was a pussycat compared to Titanoboa; paleontologists believe this African snake made a regular meal of the distant elephant ancestor Moeritherium.

4. Titanoboa shared its habitat with the giant turtle Carbonemys.

The swamps of early Paleocene South America were not a destination for the faint-hearted. The remains of the one-ton snapping turtle Carbonemys have been found in the same vicinity as Titanoboa fossils, and it's not inconceivable that these two giant reptiles mixed it up occasionally (a scenario that's explored in more depth in this article, Titanoboa vs. Carbonemys: Who Wins?)

5. Titanoboa was almost twice as long as the largest snake alive today.

Sure, Titanoboa was big, but it was barely twice as big as the modern-day giant anaconda, the largest specimens of which measure about 25 feet from head to tail and weigh in the neighborhood of 500 pounds. In this respect, Titanoboa was far less impressive than the average dinosaur; even a medium-sized ornithopod weighed more than 10 times as much as the largest modern lizards!

6. Titanoboa lived in an extremely hot and humid climate.

South America recovered fairly quickly from the plunging global temperatures in the wake of the Yucatan meteor impact, which threw up clouds of dust that obscured the sun. During the Paleocene epoch, modern-day Peru and Colombia must have been positively tropical, with high humidity and average temperatures in the 90's--and cold-blooded reptiles like snakes attain much bigger sizes in warmer climates!

7. A life-sized Titanoboa was once displayed in Grand Central Station.

In March of 2012, the Smithsonian Institution installed a 48-foot-long Titanoboa in Grand Central Station, New York's busiest commuter rail terminal, during rush hour. As a museum spokesman was quoted by The Huffington Post, the exhibit was meant to "scare the hell out of people"--and also to call their attention to an upcoming Smithsonian TV special, "Titanoboa: Monster Snake."

8. At its thickest, Titanoboa had a diameter of three feet.

When a snake is as long as Titanoboa, it can't afford the luxury of evenly spacing out its weight along the length of its body. Titanoboa was noticeably thicker toward the center of its trunk than it was at either end, and presumably, after it chowed down on a giant turtle or crocodile, its paunch was big enough to make it look like an inexpertly rolled glob of Play-Doh.

9. Titanoboa was probably the color of a dirty car mat.

Speaking of Play-Doh, brightly colored markings would have been of no use to Titanoboa, which made its living by sneaking up on prey. In fact, all of the plus-sized reptiles in Titanoboa's habitat were unremarkable to look at and even harder to see; if you were miraculously transported back to Paleocene South America, you'd probably be chomped by a lurking crocodile before you even got your camera out!

10. As big as it was, Titanoboa was a shrimp compared to most dinosaurs.

At this point, you may be wondering: why all this fuss about a snake that tipped the scales at "only" a ton, when some of the dinosaurs that preceded it weighed literally a hundred times more? You can chalk it up to peoples' natural (if irrational) fear of snakes, and their equally natural (and much less irrational) fear of giant, camouflaged, crocodile-eating snakes.

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