Saturday, February 7, 2009

Giant Titanaboa Skeleton Found

A fossil boa constrictor that lived about 60 million years ago and estimated to be over 40 feet long and a ton has been discovered. To get some perspective, here is the skeleton next to a relatively tiny bone of a 10 foot modern variety:



It is simply staggering. Check here for a nice writeup by PZ Myers on how scientists estimate the temperature of the region in which the snake lived:

"The authors used the size of this snake to estimate the temperature of this region of South America 60 million years ago. Snakes are poikilotherms, depending on external sources of heat to maintain a given level of metabolic activity, and so available temperature means are limiting factors on how large they can grow. By comparing this animal's size to that of modern tropical snakes, and extrapolating from a measured curve of size to mean annual temperature, they were able to calculate that the average ambient temperature was 30-34°C (American cluestick: about 90°F); less than that, and this snake would have died."

1 comment:

alex said...

Matthew Huber wrote about this fossil in Nature: “tropical climate in the past was not buffered from global warming.” He asked about this inference proposed by discoverers Head et al in the same issue, namely:

"All that said, these implications are based on a new type of proxy: Head and colleagues’ findings are the result of probably the first study in ‘snake palaeothermometry’, and as such must be viewed with caution. Is the empirical link between size and temperature really generalizable and accurate? Could the ability to lose heat be an important limitation for these giant snakes, rendering Head and colleagues’ extrapolations moot? Can a few vertebrae truly provide accurate estimates of snake size? Why have similarly giant snakes not been found in other warm intervals?"