The remains of a snake found in Columbia – the newly named Titanoboa cerrejonensis — would have measured 13 metres long and weighed about 1,135 kilograms, making it the biggest known snake, living or extinct.
So, what does that mean for climate?
The snake lived 58 to 60 million years ago, around the Palaeocene when the Earth’s upper latitudes were much warmer than they are today. This was a time when ice at the poles had melted and crocodiles roamed the Arctic. But, as climate scientist Matthew Huber describes in a Nature News & Views article, researchers are less sure how hot the tropics were during that time.
He wrote: “The discovery in Colombia of a giant species of fossil snake is news in itself. But a wider, more controversial inference to be drawn is that tropical climate in the past was not buffered from global warming.”
Vertebrate paleontologist Jason Head of the University of Toronto in Canada and his colleagues, who reported the snake discovery in Nature, reasoned that such a large snake could only survive at a certain temperature. Snakes rely on external heat from their environment to help fuel their metabolism. The bigger the snake, the more heat it requires, which is why you don’t see pythons in Minnesota.
…while the comparison between the natural global warming of the Palaeocene and modern human-induced global warming is “very tenuous”, Head says, it might mean that today’s tropics will heat up just as fast as the rest of the world, potentially leading to more extinctions around the equator.