Feeds

One-tonne 40ft snake prowled superhot prehistoric jungles

Global warming? Here be monsters

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
EOS, Lockheed to track space junk from Oz
WA facility gets laser-eyes out of the fog
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.