Titanoboa

The biggest snake that ever lived?

Online Biology Dictionary

EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD

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Titanoboa
Scientists examining the bones of one of the huge specimens

Titanoboa (/tī-TAN-ə-BŌ-ə/) is the biggest snake known to science. It slithered through the neotropical rainforests of what is now Colombia, in northwestern South America, approximately 58 million years ago, during the Paleocene. This behemoth boa, a massive constrictor that would have easily been able to swallow a cow. It was 12-15 meters (40-50 feet) long and weighed about 1100 kilograms (2500 pounds) — estimates based on the size and length of its vertebral column.

Map of Colombia showing location of La Guajira
La Guajira

picture of Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Carlos Jaramillo

picture of Jonathan Bloch of the University of Florida
Jonathan Bloch

This prodigious python, known from about thirty separate specimens, has been assigned the name Titanoboa cerrejonensis, after the Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira, the northernmost department of mainland Colombia, where it was discovered in 2009 by a team led by Jonathan Bloch of the University of Florida and Carlos Jaramillo from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

The mature animal was one meter thick. As Indiana University geologist David Polly, one of the scientists who analyzed the fossils, says, "At its greatest width, the snake would have come up to about your hips. The size is pretty amazing." It was as long as a full-size school bus and weighed as much as a small car. Living primarily in water, it must have preyed on such things as fish, crocodiles, even very large crocodiles, and other snakes (this diet is, of course, hypothetical, but reasonable since all known snakes eat only animals).

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Titanoboa
Image: Courtesy of Indiana University


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