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Ancient fossil find: This snake could eat a cow!

A vertebra of an adult green anaconda is dwarfed by a vertebra of the giant snake dubbed “titanic boa from Cerrejon,’’ a region in Colombia.

Associated Press

A vertebra of an adult green anaconda is dwarfed by a vertebra of the giant snake dubbed “titanic boa from Cerrejon,’’ a region in Colombia.

Forget Snakes on a Plane: This snake was as long as a bus.

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Fossils from northeastern Colombia reveal the biggest snake the world has ever known — a behemoth that stretched 42 to 45 feet long, reaching more than 2,500 pounds.

"This thing weighs more than a bison and is longer than a city bus," enthused snake expert Jack Conrad of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who was familiar with the find.

"It could easily eat something the size of a cow. A human would just be toast immediately."

(Actually, the beast probably munched on ancient relatives of crocodiles in its rainforest home 58 million to 60 million years ago.)

"If it tried to enter my office to eat me, it would have a hard time squeezing through the door," reckoned paleontologist Jason Head of the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Head is senior author of a report on the find in today's issue of the journal Nature. Partial skeletons of the giant snake are now at the University of Florida.

The discoverers of the snake named it Titanoboa cerrejonensis ("ty-TAN-o-BO-ah sare-ah-HONE-en-siss"). That means "titanic boa from Cerrejon," the region where it was found.

While related to modern boa constrictors, it behaved more like an anaconda and spent almost all its time in the water. It could slither on land as well as swim.

Titanoboa breaks the record for snake length by about 11 feet, surpassing a creature that lived about 40 million years ago in Egypt. Among living snake species, the record holder is an individual python measured at about 30 feet long, which is some 12 to 15 feet shorter than typical Titanoboas, said study co-author Jonathan Bloch, a University of Florida vertebrate paleontologist who co-led the expedition to Colombia.

The beast was revealed in early 2007 at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Bones collected at a huge open-pit coal mine in Colombia were being unpacked when graduate students unwrapping the fossils "realized they were looking at the bones of a snake,'' Bloch said. "Not only a snake, but a really big snake."

So far the scientists have found about 180 fossils of backbone and ribs and now they hope to go back to Colombia to find parts of the skull.

"Now we have a window into the time just after the dinosaurs went extinct and can actually see what the animals replacing them were like," Head said.

Information from the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

60 million years ago

Titanoboa was probably the largest nonmarine animal on the planet, about 6 million years after the demise of the dinosaurs. University of Florida researchers say the snake, weighing in at 2,500 pounds, could eat a large cow or a bison — if there had been any around.

Ancient fossil find: This snake could eat a cow! 02/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 10:54pm]

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