Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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King of Holies – by Richard Flament

Titanoboa in its homeland.

Snakes first appeared on Earth about 170 million years ago. During their development, they gradually lost their front and hind limbs in order to adopt a very distinctive elongated body. Some extinct snakes are up to nine meters long today, and have reached record numbers.

About 8 million years have passed since the non-bird dinosaurs disappeared when the snake king roamed the rainforests of South America. Its size is enormous. It is estimated that it can reach 15 meters in length and weigh up to two tons. The diameter of his body was almost a meter. With these measurements, only one name can fit: Titanoboa, for the largest snake that exists to date.

The snake king had a very special diet. While its modern cousins ​​feed on small mammals, it primarily eats crocodiles. Yes, he can swallow a crocodile several meters long! The fossil discovery site of this snake indicated that its habitat was near water. In addition to his monstrous size, he can swim very well. This super predator worked like the current anaconda to feed itself, that is, by tying its prey to strangle it or even dragging it underwater to drown it. Its contraction force is insane. If a human found themselves trapped by this snake, it is estimated that it would represent 15,000 tons of pressure, just like lying under the weight of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Apart from its amazing proportions, the Titanoboa Scientists are interested in other issues. Such a body is not the result of chance, and if this snake is very large, it is in particular thanks to the special climate that existed 58 million years ago. In fact, snakes are cold-blooded animals, and therefore they need high temperatures to survive. The sheer size of Titanoboa It indicates that the temperatures of its habitat cannot drop below 32 ° C. So in the context of high temperatures we can find giant snakes. The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was also four times higher than it is today. However, if global warming continues, perhaps the snakes will one day become giants again…

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Richard Flament

PhD student in evolutionary biology at Qatar University.

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