Posts Tagged ‘Fossil’

Mammoth skeleton found nearly intact in Los Angeles

Mammoth skeleton found nearly intact in Los Angeles

By Dan Whitcomb Dan Whitcomb       Fri Feb 20, 10:54 am ET

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The nearly complete skeleton of a massive Columbian mammoth who died during the last ice age has been dug out of a construction site near the La Brea Tar Pits in downtown Los Angeles, a remarkable find even in the fossil-rich area, scientists said Wednesday. Continue reading

A living fossil found in Namibia


Researchers have discovered two living species—so recently that they have yet to be named—of this Alavesia fly, a genus that had previously only been seen preserved in Cretaceous-era amber in Spain and Burma.

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Forests absorb 20 percent of fossil fuel emissions: study

LONDON (Reuters) – Tropical trees have grown bigger over the past 40 years and now absorb 20 percent of fossil fuel emissions from the atmosphere, highlighting the need to preserve threatened forests, British researchers said Wednesday.

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Ancient fossil find: This snake could eat a cow!

A handout photo released by Nature magazine shows a Precloacal vertebra of an

By MALCOLM RITTER, AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter, Ap Science WriterWed Feb 4, 6:29 pm ET

AP – A handout photo released by Nature magazine shows a Precloacal vertebra of an adult Green Anaconda (Eunectes …

NEW YORK – Never mind the 40-foot snake that menaced Jennifer Lopez in the 1997 movie “Anaconda.” Not even Hollywood could match a new discovery from the ancient world. Fossils from northeastern Colombia reveal the biggest snake ever discovered: 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.”

“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 Missisauga.

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

Head is senior author of a report on the find in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

(The same issue carries another significant report from the distant past. Scientists said they’d found the oldest known evidence of animal life, remnants of steroids produced by sponges more than 635 million years ago in Oman.)

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, Head said. It could slither on land as well as swim.

Conrad, who wasn’t involved in the discovery, called the find “just unbelievable…. It mocks your preconceptions about how big a snake can get.”

Titanoboa breaks the record for snake length by about 11 feet, surpassing a creature that lived about 40 million years ago in Egypt, Head said. 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.

The beast was revealed in early 2007 at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Bones collected at a huge open-pit coal mine in Colombia were being unpacked, said Bloch, the museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology.

Graduate students unwrapping the fossils “realized they were looking at the bones of a snake. Not only a snake, but a really big snake.”

So they quickly consulted the skeleton of a 17-foot anaconda for comparison. A backbone from that creature is about the size of a silver dollar, Bloch said, while a backbone from Titanoboa is “the size of a large Florida grapefruit.”

So far the scientists have found about 180 fossils of backbone and ribs that came from about two dozen individual snakes, and now they hope to go back to Colombia to find parts of the skull, Bloch said.

Titanoboa’s size gives clues about its environment. A snake’s size is related to how warm its environment is. The fossils suggest equatorial temperatures in its day were significantly warmer than they are now, during a time when the world as a whole was warmer. So equatorial temperatures apparently rose along with the global levels, in contrast to the competing hypothesis that they would not go up much, Head noted.

“It’s a leap” to apply the conditions of the past to modern climate change, Head said. But given that, the finding still has “some potentially scary implications for what we’re doing to the climate today,” he said.

The finding suggest the equatorial regions will warm up along with the planet, he said.

“We won’t have giant snakes, however, because we are removing most of their habitats by development and deforestation” in equatorial regions, he said.

Largest snake ‘as long as a bus’

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News


snake2The discovery of fossilised remains belonging to the world’s largest snake has been reported in Nature journal.

Titanoboa was 13m (42ft) long – about the length of a bus – and lived in the rainforest of north-east Colombia 58-60 million years ago.

The snake was so wide it would have reached up to a person’s hips, say researchers, who have estimated that it weighed more than a tonne.

Green anacondas – the world’s heaviest snakes – reach a mere 250kg (550lbs).

Snakes had the opportunity to evolve and grow as big as this one did in a way that they probably wouldn’t today
P David Polly, Indiana University

Reticulated pythons – the world’s longest snakes – can reach up to 10m (32ft).

The team of researchers led by Jason Head, from the University of Toronto at Mississauga, Canada, used a known mathematical relationship between the size of vertebrae and the length of the body in living snakes to estimate the size of the ancient animal.

Named Titanoboa cerrejonensis by its discoverers, the beast’s 13m-long body and 1,140kg (2,500lb) weight make it the largest snake on record.

“At its greatest width, the snake would have come up to about your hips. The size is pretty amazing,” said co-author P David Polly, from Indiana University in Bloomington, US.

Researchers discovered fossilised bones belonging to the super-sized slitherers and their possible prey at Cerrejon, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines. The animal is a relative of modern boa constrictors.

Warming world

“Probably like an anaconda, it spent a lot of time in the water,” said Professor Polly.

“It would have needed to eat a lot. What its prey was exactly, we don’t know. But it probably included alligators, big fish or crocodiles.”

The researchers also used the reptile’s size to make an estimate of Earth’s temperature 58 to 60 million years ago in tropical South America.

A vertebra from an anaconda (l) is dwarfed by one from <I>Titanoboa</I> (r)
A vertebra from an anaconda (l) is dwarfed by one from Titanoboa (r)

Palaeontologists have long known that as temperatures go up and down over geological time, generally speaking, so does the upper size limit of cold-blooded creatures – or poikilotherms.

This is because the metabolism of a poikilotherm is more or less controlled by the average temperature of its environment.

Assuming the Earth today was not particularly unusual, the researchers calculated that a snake of Titanoboa‘s size would have required an average annual temperature of 30C to 34C (86F to 93F) to survive.

By comparison, the average yearly temperature of today’s Cartagena, a Colombian coastal city, is about 28C.

Opportunity knocks

“A snake living in the tropics would have been operating at a much higher metabolic rate,” said Professor Polly.

“So snakes had the opportunity to evolve and grow as big as this one did in a way that they probably wouldn’t today.”

snakeHe added that as the Earth warmed up in future, cold-blooded animals could be expected to evolved larger bodies.

Dr Head adds that the find “challenges our understanding of past climates and environments, as well as the biological limitations on the evolution of giant snakes.”

However, Dr Matthew Huber, a climatologist from Purdue University in Indiana, who was not connected with the study, questioned whether the link between size and temperature was “generalisable and accurate”.

He commented: “Head and colleagues’ findings are the result of probably the first study in ‘snake palaeothermometry’, and as such must be viewed with caution.”