Prehistoric mega-snake reveals ancient climate

Godzilla has nothing on a newly discovered snake species that existed 60 million years ago. The nearly 50 foot-long, one and a half ton snake is the largest ever discovered and would dwarf even today’s biggest anacondas. But its size isn’t the only thing impressing scientists. The remains of this constrictor-like snake contain clues about climate and environment that existed during prehistoric times, a link that could also help researchers understand the effects of climate change on today’s ecosystems.

Jonathan Bloch, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Florida, and Carlos Jaramillo, with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, led the expedition into the previously inaccessible Colombian forest. Based on the link between snake body-size and temperature, Jason Head, a University of Toronto Mississauga paleonotologist, and his team were able to deduce the ancient climate down to the degree Celsius. What they found was an equatorial forest environment that was about 6 degrees warmer than today’s annual temperatures.

“The key thing about this discovery is that we can use it as a launching point to develop very precise climatic reconstructions,” said Head in a press release. “It will help us to look at how ecosystems respond to climate change and specifically, what happens when temperatures increase or decrease.” 

You can read more about this colossal herpetology/paleontology/climate discovery in the Feb. 5, 2009 issue of Nature.

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