High CO2 made for giant snake based on new fossil find according to reports in EurekAlert and BBC News 4 Feb 2009, and Nature, vol. 457, p715, 5 Feb 2009.

A team of scientists led by Jason Head (University of Toronto at Mississauga, Canada), have found fossilised bones of a giant snake in the Cerrejon Formation of northeastern Columbia, dated at 58-60 million years old. Labelled Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the fossil has “a body length of 13m (42.7ft) and a mass of 1,135kg (2,500lb), making it the largest known snake.” Researchers estimated the size and weight of the snake by comparing its vertebral bones with bones from present day snakes of known size and weight. The longest living snakes are reticulated pythons, known to grow to 10m (32ft), and the heaviest known snakes are Green Anacondas, which can weigh up to 250kg (550lbs)

There is much speculation about how a snake could grow this large. Head’s team suggest it was because the snake lived in the “hot Paleocene neotropics with high concentrations of atmospheric CO2”. David Polly, one the researchers, told the BBC “A snake living in the tropics would have been operating at a much higher metabolic rate. So snakes had the opportunity to evolve and grow as big as this one did in a way that they probably wouldn’t today.” He also suggested that as the earth gets warmer cold blood animals could be expected to evolve larger bodies.

Other scientists are not so quick to make the link with global warming. Matthew Huber, a climatologist from Purdue University, Indiana, questioned whether the link between size and temperature was “generalisable and accurate”. He went on to say: “Head and colleagues’ findings are the result of probably the first study in ‘snake palaeothermometry’, and as such must be viewed with caution.”

The EurekAlert article ends with this summary of giant animals: “Evolution has produced a wide variety of gigantic animals over the last several hundred million years – dinosaurs, ancient dragonflies, and today’s blue whale, to name a few; but why some species lineages produce monsters remains a matter of debate among evolutionary biologists and ecologists.”


Editorial Comment: Like most reptiles, snakes are capable of growing throughout their lives, provided they are free of disease and stress, have sufficient nutritious food, and live in a warm environment without extremes of temperature. Where would you get such a perfect environment? In the original “very good” world created by God, where even after Adam’s rebellion, yet prior to Noah’s flood, human beings lived for very long times (see Genesis 5), so it is reasonable to suppose that animals could also have had long life spans. This meant any animals capable of growing throughout their lives had plenty of time to grow very large. Instead of being the hottest snake, this fossil may have been the longest lived snake ever found. The fact that extra CO2 has been suggested is just a plus, and a reminder that CO2 is not the hazard politician’s claim.

Evidence News 8 April 2009

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