Feeds

One-tonne 40ft snake prowled superhot prehistoric jungles

Global warming? Here be monsters

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.