3 prehistoric snakes are nightmares 3 prehistoric snakes are nightmares

“Snakes”, cunning archaeologist Indiana Jones famous walls in The kidnappers of the missing ark. “Why did they have to be snakes?”

If, like Indy, the mere thought of a snake makes you shudder, you’re not alone—the fear of snakes is among the most common phobias, even for people who have never seen one live. In fact, humans may be born with an innate fear of snakes and spiders, according to a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2017

But even if you can work around a garter snake without blinking an eye, you may feel differently if you find yourself face to face with Titanoboa cerrejonensis. Read on to learn more about this menacing creature and other giant prehistoric snakes.

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Prehistoric snakes / 3 prehistoric snakes are nightmares

Spanning over 40 feet from tip to tail, this colossal snake — longer than a school bus and almost as long heavy as a shipping container — is considered a distant relative of boas and anacondas. Gliding through the swampy jungle that once stretched across present-day Colombia, Titanoboa was a formidable predator.

It didn’t strike with sharp teeth or deadly venom, but instead squeezed the life out of its prey, essentially crushing them to death. Fortunately, its heyday was about 60 million years ago, just a few million years after the last days of the dinosaurs.

Titanoboa was not the only primordial serpent ever to writhe upon the planet. Although the fossil record for these often fragile creatures remains incomplete, scientists are learned a lot about them in recent decades. Here’s more about Titanoboa and two prehistoric snakes that, thankfully, you’ll never have to meet.

1. The biggest snake ever — Titanoboa cerrejonensis/ 3 prehistoric snakes are nightmares

A life-size replica of Titanoboa on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The sheer size of the snake suggests that it had no problem swallowing animals as large as alligators. (Credit: James DiLoreto/Smithsonian)

The biggest snake that ever slithered was T. cerrejonensis. Scientists the first fossils discovered from Titanoboa in 2009 when they found fossilized vertebrae and ribs belonging to 28 individual snakes in an open-pit coal mine in northern Colombia.

It was the structure of the vertebrae that led the team to believe it was related to a boa constrictor, prompting them to duplicate the species T. cerrejonesis, or “Cerrejón titanic boa” for the coal mine in which it was found. Meanwhile, the size of the vertebrae suggests the prehistoric monster weighed as much as 2,500 pounds and was 42 feet long, according to the team’s analysis in Nature.

The researchers also studied what the snake’s environment might look like. They calculated that a snake from of Titanoboa growth would require an average annual temperature of 86 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit to support his metabolism. This suggests that as temperatures rise, so does the size limit cold-blooded creatures can reach.

2. The largest sea snake — Palaeophis colossaeus

Fossilized vertebrae belonging to Palaeophis colossaeus. (Credit: Ghedo/Wikimedia Commons)

Palaeophis colossaeus is the largest sea snake that ever existed. This water serpent once slithered through the waters of antiquity Trans-Saharan Sea, a shallow saline region that filled the Sahara desert in Africa about 50 to 100 million years ago. It is supposed to span more than 30 feet, fossils indicate this Palaeophis colossaeus, on the largest sea snakes that ever lived, swimming alongside colossal catfish, spiny fish, mollusk-crushing and giant, long-snouted crocodiles. Due to its large size, it they could easily feed on smaller species of whales.

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P. colossaeus — as well as other gigantic water-serpents belonging to Paleophis (“ancient snake”) genus—remains poorly understood by scientists, as only a few fossils have been found in the now-closed Mali country.

But researchers continue to unravel the mysteries of the enigmatic sea snake. In an analysis published in Swiss Journal of Paleontology in 2021, scientists used micro CT scanning techniques to create 3D models of snake vertebraewhich showed that it was stronger and more massive than other water snakes of the era.

3. The former reigning champion — Gigantophis garstini / 3 prehistoric snakes are nightmares

This chart shows the approximate length of Gigantophis garstini compared to other large snakes such as Titanoboa. (Credit: Gamma 124/Wikimedia Commons)

Since its opening in Algeria more than a hundred years ago, Gigantophis garstini was known as the largest snake that ever lived – until Titanoboa grabbed that title in 2009. Still, at more than 33 feet long and weighing around half a ton, this python-like predator was no slouch when it came to eating its prey.

As this prehistoric snake slithered through the forests of North Africa and South Asia during the Eocene Epoch (approximately 40 to 35 million years ago), paleontologists believe it may have stalked a megafauna of mammals such as Moeritheriumpig-like creatures that would evolve into today’s elephants.

For more than a century, G. garstini was the only known species of its now extinct genus, Gigantophis, or “giant snake” in ancient Greek. But that all changed in 2014 when researchers discovered a second (incomplete) fossil specimendifferent from Gigantophis garstini, in Pakistan, suggesting that other species of titan snakes are still out there waiting to be discovered.

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