Titanoboa, did it really exist?

A model of the Titanoboa displayed in the Smithsonian museum.

Titanoboa was a genus of boa that lived roughly 58-60 million years ago. It was believed to have come into being in a 10 million year period following the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. There is only one known species of the titanoboa (Titanoboa cerrejonensis). It is now the largest snake ever to have lived and supplanted the previous holder, this snake being the gigantophis.

The snake itself measured a maximum of 50 foot from head to tail once fully grown. Scientists reached this conclusion by comparing the discovered vertebrae with existent species of a similar genus. Aswell as reaching this length, the snake itself would weigh up to 1,200kg and would reach a diameter of 3ft.

So why did this snake grow to such an extreme length?
Well, because snakes are ectothermic, the discovery implies that the tropics (the animal’s habitat) must have been warmer than previously thought, averaging approximately 30 °C (90 °F). The warmer climate of the Earth during the time of titanoboa’s reign allowed cold-blooded snakes to attain much larger sizes than modern snakes that we see today. This rule still applies to this day, larger ectothermic snakes are found in the tropics (reticulated python – South East Asia), where it is hottest, and smaller ones are found further from the equator (corn snakes – North America), although they wouldn’t be implicated as extreme now as they were millions of years ago.

Titanoboa Vertebrae (Left) Anaconda Vertebrae (Right)

The Discovery
The Individual fossils of 28 titanoboa were found in 2009 in the Cerrejón Formation of the coal mines in La Guajira, Colombia. Fossils of this giant had been found prior to this 2009 expedition in the tropic regions of South America, but had never been studied further. It was only until Jonathan Bloch (vertebrae paleantologist) and Carlos Jaramillo (paleabotonist) led a team of scientists on the expedition to find this huge vertebrae.

So, did this giant really exist?
Maybe not, but I certainly like to believe that it did. If you look at species we see today, like the reticulated python and the green and yellow anacondas, and compare the climates and what it must have been like in the titanoboa’s time, it most certainly would have been able to get to this alleged size.

About Duncan Cooper

Duncan has worked worked with reptiles for 3 years after completing his studies in small animals at Moulton College. He works at our Milton Keynes branch, take a look at their store's Facebook & Twitter.

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