Wild! Can barely imagine such a beast
Around 58 million years ago, a monstrous snake slithered out of the swampy jungles of South America and began a reign of terror.
Weighing more than a tonne and measuring 14m (approximately 50ft) the giant reptile could swallow a whole crocodile without showing a bulge. But a few years ago, scientists never even knew it existed.
“Never in your wildest dreams do you expect to find a 14m boa constrictor. The biggest snake today is half that size,” says Dr Carlos Jaramillo, a scientist with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and part of the team that made the discovery.
‘World of lost reptiles’ Thought to be a distant relative of the anaconda and boa constrictor, the snake – named Titanoboa – was not venomous. Instead, it crushed its prey with the constricting force of 400lbs per sq inch – the equivalent of lying under the weight of one and a half times the Brooklyn Bridge.
The fossils were exposed by excavation at the massive Cerrejon open-face coal mine in northern Colombia. In 2002, scientists had discovered at that site the remains of a tropical rainforest from the Palaeocene Epoch – perhaps the planet’s first.
As well as fossilised leaves and plants, they unearthed reptiles so big they defied imagination.
“What we found was a giant world of lost reptiles – turtles the size of a kitchen table and the biggest crocodiles in the history of fossil records,” says Jonathan Bloch, an expert in vertebrate evolution at the University of Florida.
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