The British Herpetological Society

The Herpetological Journal is the Society's prestigious quarterly scientific journal. Articles are listed in Biological Abstracts, Current Awareness in Biological Sciences,Current Contents, Science Citation Index, and Zoological Record.

 ISSN 0268-0130

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pdf 02. What can studying anacondas tell us about Titanoboa cerrejonensis? Exploring the life of an extinct giant snake using an extant pretty big snake


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pp. 68-75

Author: Jesús A. Rivas

Abstract: The maximum size that snakes can reach has been a matter of long held debate until the discovery of Titanoboa cerrejonensis (Boidae). It was an aquatic predator that lived 60–58 million years ago in what is currently eastern Colombia, occupying tropical swamps. It was calculated to measure 12.82 metres and it was speculated that it grew so much due to a warmer planetary weather. Its life history and ecology are speculated to be very similar to that of current day anacondas. Using data from a long-term study involving hundreds of green anacondas Eunectes murinus, this study makes inferences about aspects of the natural history of T. cerrejonensis that perhaps will not be easily available by studying the fossil record. Drawing parallels with anaconda's biology, I estimate that a non-breeding female T. cerrejonensis weighed approximately 1,232 kg, and 1,465 kg when pregnant. It would have started breeding at 480 cm SVL, weighing 95 kg. New-born Titanoboa were between 181 and 215 cm. Its average meal was estimated to be 505 kg, with a potential maximum of 1,799 kg. I estimate that Titanoboa had a growth rate of 0.046 mm/day compared with 0.036 in anacondas; which does not support the notion that it grew more due to a warmer planet. Although the results are largely speculative, they help give a better idea of what the life of an extinct snake was like.

Keywords: Gigantism, prey size, reproductive biology, life history, palaeothermometer, giant snake, allometry, palaeoecology

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