Titanoboa; Green Anacondas Look So Cute Now

in steemstem •  3 months ago

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Picture By Ryan Somma - Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Hi everyone,

It's a great day for another article about a certain monster which could make the most fierce animal ever discovered (today) looks kinda cute and benign. Most of the ancestors of the species of animal which exist today are huge back in the day, anyone has seen "The Meg" yet? That particular megalodon is gigantic and even if the prehistoric version of sharks look kinda scary, snakes could have been much more. To be honest, I'm always terrified of snakes, even the most benign one. Even if I'm interested in learning about them (especially the king cobra), I can never tolerate the idea of being in a close proximity with one of them, not even the most benign, non-poisonous one. You can imagine how movies like "Anaconda" or anything related to genetically-enhanced snakes made me. I can barely make it to the intermission, nope, thank you.

Up until recently, before the evidence regarding Titanoboa existence make it to the surface, the largest snake ever discovered, roaming the earth surface approximately 40 million years ago only measured around 33 feet long. That sounds like an understatement (maybe it is), but to put it into perspective, Gigantophis which previously held the title of being the longest (possibly largest) snake ever discovered can be illustrated as being a 33 feet long school bus, yup, the school bus is kinda overextended. It's not until 2009 when scientists discovered fossils which belong to a massive (approximately 3000 pounds) snake, measuring around 40-45 feet in Cerrejón, a place in which has been thought as the prehistoric fossils goldmine by most of the palaeontologists. Cerrejón might be a coal mine now, but 50 million years ago, after the event that wiped out dinosaur has settled, Cerrejón is a forest which housed hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of species, comparable to the Amazon forest now.


Picture Source - Pixabay (CC0)

There are many fossils which have been discovered in the forest located in the Cerrejón and the dominus of this region can be attributed to the 40 feet snake called the Titanoboa. Even with that title, one of the things which might have made us wonder about Titanoboa is the discovery of fossils, in the same habitat, belong to a snapping turtle called Carbonemys which suggested some kind of commensalistic or mutualistic relationship between them; it's also possible that both of them preyed upon each other, it's only an assumption though. Carbonemys is an interesting creature which could have been close to the size of a Volkswagen Bettle, it's by far, the largest turtle ever discovered weighing around 1 tonne. It ate small animals by killing them with its relatively overpowered jaw and the fact that their fossils were found at the same habitat as the Titanoboa could have suggested that the latter was keeping them for a rainy season. We all do need to restock our refrigerators, right?

Living in the environment with a high ambient temperature is thought of as one of the most important factors that would determine how big a reptile would grow. We (including animals) have a few systems which would have to react quite differently with some factors in the environment. For a cold-blooded animal, a relatively high surrounding temperature would allow them to sustain an optimal level of metabolism which would affect how efficient metabolic processes which include digestion, blood circulation etc. that would then affect growth. Today, if you were visiting zoos, the longest/largest snake could have measured up to 8 metres (which is a reticulated python). Considering the fact that we have discussed earlier, even though the length of a reptile can be influenced by a multitude of factors, the base global temperature 40 million years ago should have been much higher at the equator compared to today. We assume the length of Titanoboa to be almost 45 feet but it can be much longer; it would have been wise to only conclude the length of the species by the existing fossil evidence.

Looking through all the articles that I have found on the internet regarding this topic, it is difficult to determine how reliable a source is when we are trying to determine when is exactly Titanoboa started to make their appearances. 10 sources gave 10 different estimates and some of them are quite significant. The only thing that they seem to agree on is Titanoboa still lived after the K-T extinction event which would have wiped out dinosaurs. The remnant of Titanoboa started to lay low in the river of the rainforest, trying to survive and hunt anything that they can wrap upon. If you want to ask about which gender is deadly, then I would have said that, from all of the information regarding reptiles that I knew, it would be weird and unreasonable to assume that males are deadlier than female. Some scientists estimate that a female Titanoboa can be much longer, thicker and stronger than the male; talk about how scary it could be for a male Titanoboa to initiate sexual intercourse. One misstep could have made them being crushed by the female.

Killing And Eating



Picture Source - Pxhere (CC0)

What do you think would be scarier? Seeing a crocodile advances toward you or have some kind of indication that you would soon be constricted by a 40 feet long snake that is currently advancing toward you. I would say both. I mean, we can't really felt secure with something that we can't see. How much is the portion of the Titanoboa's body would be visible while it swims towards its prey? I would say that it is like facing a certain death. All kind snakes have either poisons or overpowered grip which is provided by all of the muscles that they own. Anaconda and reticulated python, for example, both of the snakes are aided by extra muscles (added to the wight of their body) along with a row of bend teeth, designed to grip its victim, preventing them from escaping. The purpose is to grip as strong as they can which could have resulted in the blood flow to the heart of its victim to stop; heart failure is imminent. Unlike any of the venomous snake, the teeth of the bigger and much stronger snake are not utilised for injection purposes, so it would have to bend a little (to provide a much reliable grip).

Let's say that suddenly you were wrapped and bitten by a python, what would you do? You can't so shit. You can't move and at the same time, the snake's teeth which have been burrowed inside your flesh would have made you immobilise so the best course of action is to pray that someone, with capabilities to handle a python arrived just in time before you died of heart failure. I know most of the literature would have disagreed with me about the cause of death but according to the latest article published earlier this year, instead of asphyxiation, heart failure is a much efficient and quicker way for a constrictor snake to kill its victim. It's tricky and sometimes dangerous for someone else to pull you away from the snake as the backwards-pointing teeth would have torn up your flesh causing a greater degree of injury and blood loss.


Picture By Mithun.M.Das - Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

What about Titanoboa? Well, it got all features described above except for its teeth, it's less recurved than both the anaconda and reticulated python. We can assume it's a part of their evolutionary trait, to secure their victims efficiently before consuming them. Unlike both of the constrictor snakes, Titanoboa is too huge to be unseen by their victim. I mean, really? 40 feet and you still can't see them? Despite the fact that they were too long and overweight to be the alpha, they were able to move swiftly in between trees to chase their victims and kill them. Even with the fastest animals on the land that could have escape Titanoboa, they would have been deadly in the water which makes it more likely for them to sink in the river waiting for unsuspecting prey to come and drink before they would be caught by surprise. Obviously, fauna which inhabited Cerrejón should have been terrified by the presence of their own dominus in the water, any seconds now they could have been attacked and consumed. They eat anything that they can get their bulky muscles on ranging from the smallest helpless animal to one of the most fearsome predators in the Cerrejón, the crocodiles.

Crocodiles could have been one of the tastiest meals of a Titanoboa considering that they can be eaten compared to the snapping turtle Carbonemys. They live in the lake inhabited by Titanoboa without being worried that they could, in any second, becomes the prey of the giant 40-feet snake; the dominus can't take it. They were too large and too heavy for their taste and even if they could have crushed the snapping turtle's shell, it would require a crazy amount of force to do so; I would search for other victims instead so we can say that the relationship between these two animals can be quite complicated. I mean, Titanoboa wanted to eat them but they couldn't; they could if the snapping turtle is yet to be an adult and small. Their relationship can be neither commensalistic or mutualistic, they just ignore each other.

What about cannibalistic instinct? They could have eaten each other (Titanoboas). Yes, they could but up to the current assumption, the only reliable one is if the female eats the male and not the other around. Male Titanoboas can be sexually challenged by the fact that the female can eat them anytime after or in the middle of reptile's orgasm (if they have those), suicidal reproduction is a popular topic nowadays. We can see this type of behaviour present in the anacondas in which the female would eat the male as part of their reproductive ritual. I can't see why not this would have been practised by their ancestors.

Extinction



Picture Source - Pixabay (CC0)

Every wonderful thing needs to end. The world slowly changes and its content started to evolve into something which might have suited the living condition throughout the timeline. The higher global temperature was considered the most important factor that would influence the survival capacity of a Titanoboa. Every reptile would grow according to their surrounding temperature. We can see now that places which received the most direct sunlight (the equator) have the biggest snakes or reptiles than the other part of the world. A few years before the extinction of Titanoboa, the global temperature started to decline. This event was followed by the emergence of a few small-sized snakes which could have been more suited than the large Titanoboa. As the temperature decline, Titanoboa can't really sustain optimal metabolic processes which could make everything went slow. They could survive, of course, and the next generation of Titanoboa would have a much smaller scale but as the global temperature keeps on declining, they would have failed to meet the minimal metabolic requirement to stay alive.

It's this kind of theory which supported the fact that a few million years after the K-T extinction event, the global temperature might have been hotter than what we are experiencing now. It would be advantageous for the Titanoboa but a few million years after, the world started to change. Other monstrous snakes such as Gigantophis would have been killed for the same reason but due to the fact that they were relatively much smaller than the Titanoboa, their extinction rate was much slower. Unlike dinosaurs, most of the great snakes which have extinct are not wiped out in a single night. There were some changes and painful processes that resulted in their demise. As Cerrejón is the place which is concentrated with a variety of life forms during the reign of Titanoboa, it is a great place to mine coal now courtesy of the prehistoric trees and any organisms which live in due time. However, Cerrejón couldn't have been providing us with all of the living species during the Titanoboa's reign as the Cerrejón we came to know now, is located much higher and much smaller than the estimated prehistoric Cerrejón.

As the global changes continue to kill others, Titanoboa might have struggled with the changing environment and their natural habitat forcing them to venture to a distant site to find new territories. They could have succeeded but until new evidence is found, we will consider they failed to survive. Being killed by habitat changes can be a bitch but we can see now, as a result of human's activities, how a few species of animals were wiped out. Unlike us, animals can be fragile and not so much adaptable to a new environment. Anyway, it's good that Titanoboa has extinct or we have to deal with the worst man-eating predator. Well, how about a megalodon? Well......

References And Further Reading Materials



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Real cuties :)

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Really? I always thought snakes are scary. Cute is really not the word I would like to use to describe them. :P

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I'm fascinated by anacondas, really wanted to see one when I was there, unfortunately​, no luck ( that's a hotel where we have stayed in Gran Sabana, VE .. IMG_20180616_172308.jpg

My dad had such a fear of snakes as you. As for me, all it takes is for a professional to assure me that the snake is harmless, and I'll cuddle with it for all I care :D You do paint a horrific picture though!

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Hahaha. Honestly speaking, I would not cuddle it even if people successfully convince me they were harmless. They give me the creep.

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This post is way better than the movie anaconda.

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Hahaha. I would say the movie might be slightly better. Depends on which version of anaconda you meant.

These creatures made way for today's beautiful world we are living in, they too had a purpose in the scheme of things, just like man has evolved over the years, so has these creatures. Life is wonderful if only we understand it, but we must appreciate it to understand it.

What great and majestic animals!

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It is majestic, but is it great? That depends I guess.