Feeds

One-tonne 40ft snake prowled superhot prehistoric jungles

Global warming? Here be monsters

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Scientists say they have discovered fossil remains of a colossal prehistoric snake that once roamed the superheated Paleocene jungles of South America. The one-tonne Titanoboa cerrejonensis would have been more than 40 feet long and ten feet around at its thickest.

Investigating brainboxes say the mighty snake's huge size was made possible by the significantly higher temperatures on Earth 60m years ago. The size of cold-blooded creatures such as snakes is limited by the warmth of their environment.

"The size is pretty amazing," said David Polly of Indiana University. "We went a step further and asked, how warm would the Earth have to be to support a body of this size?"

Collaboration with Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and Toronto paleontologist Jason Head produced an answer: 30°C to 34°C. This is noticeably hotter than present-day temperatures in Colombia, where the mega-snake fossils were found in a coal mine. Modern Colombian rainforest temperatures average out at 27°C, too cold for the monster snakes to survive.

"Tropical ecosystems of South America were surprisingly different 60m years ago," said Jonathan Bloch of Florida Uni, who found the fossils along with Jaramillo.

"It was a rainforest, like today, but it was even hotter and the cold-blooded reptiles were substantially larger. The result was, among other things, the largest snakes the world has ever seen."

The scientists believe that the Titanoboa would be like a vastly enlarged version of modern boa constrictors or anacondas, crushing its prey to death in its mighty coils before devouring it. Even ordinary anacondas have been known on occasion to perform gut-busting feats such as scoffing entire jaguars, so the Titanoboa would presumably have been quite capable of polishing off much larger creatures when it felt seriously hungry.

According to Jaramillo, the upward trend in global temperatures over recent decades might actually be good for rainforests, the "lungs of the planet" - not bad.

"These data challenge the view that tropical vegetation lives near its climatic optimum and has profound implications for understanding the effect of current global warming on tropical plants," said the Smithsonian boffin.

In other words, should global warming trends continue upward, the world's tropical jungles might flourish rather than dying out - and so turn all the increased CO2 into oxygen. That's assuming, of course, that the rainforests have not all been cut down and turned into biofuel plantations or something.

However, there might be a downside in the form of titanic snakes able to crumple up small buildings like paper cups and devour human beings like canapés.

The assembled brainboxes report their findings in this week's edition of prestigious boffinry journal Nature. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.