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Bigger than Hollywood nightmares

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The vertebrae of the world’s biggest snake in comparison with the vertebrae (in white) of a modern 17-foot Anaconda.
The vertebrae of the world’s biggest snake in comparison with the vertebrae (in white) of a modern 17-foot Anaconda.

The snake weighed an estimated 1.25 tonnes

WASHINGTON: The largest snake the world has ever known — as long as a school bus and as heavy as a small car — ruled tropical ecosystems six million years after the demise of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex, according to a new discovery to be published on Thursday in the journal Nature.

Partial skeletons of a new giant, boa constrictor-like snake named “Titanoboa” found in Colombia by an international team of scientists and now at the University of Florida (UF) put the length at 42 to 45 feet, said Jonathan Bloch, a UF vertebrate palaeontologist who co-led the expedition with Carlos Jaramillo, a palaeo-botanist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Researchers say the extinct snake was even larger than the wildest dreams of directors of modern horror movies.

“Truly enormous snakes really spark people’s imagination, but reality has exceeded the fantasies of Hollywood,” said Mr. Bloch.

Jason Head, a palaeontologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga and the paper’s senior author, described it this way: “The snake’s body was so wide that if it were moving down the hall and decided to come into my office to eat me, it would literally have to squeeze through the door.” Besides tipping the scales at an estimated 1.25 tonnes, the snake lived during the Palaeocene Epoch, a 10-million-year period immediately following the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, said Mr. Bloch.

Size does matter because the snake’s gigantic dimensions are a sign that temperatures along the equator were once much hotter. Snakes and other cold-blooded animals are limited in body size by the ambient temperature of where they live, said Mr. Bloch. “If you look at cold-blooded animals and their distribution on the planet today, the large ones are in the tropics, where it’s hottest, and they become smaller the farther away they are from the equator,” he said. — Xinhua


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