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The Biggest Snake That Ever Lived

Updated on May 5, 2012

The Giant Snake

A life size reconstruction of Titanoboa.
A life size reconstruction of Titanoboa. | Source

Earth in the Paleocene

The position of the continents during the Palaeocene, some 60 million years ago.
The position of the continents during the Palaeocene, some 60 million years ago. | Source

A Contender for Top Predator

Diatryma- a vicious terror bird that became one of Earth's top predators immediately after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Diatryma- a vicious terror bird that became one of Earth's top predators immediately after the extinction of the dinosaurs. | Source

Travel Back in Time

Sixty five million years ago, the giant dinosaurs, those icons of prehistory now permanently entrenched in popular culture, vanished from the face of the Earth. But they did leave behind a vicious legacy, a distant reptilian cousin of monstrous proportions that make its modern relatives seem like mere worms. In order, to learn more about this creature, we have to travel through the vastness of deep time, back to an era known as the Palaeocene, roughly 58 million years ago.

At this time, the catastrophic asteroid impact that eliminated the dinosaurs and many other large animals was already a distant memory. Earth had long since recovered; the climate had stabilised, and had returned to largely what it had been prior to the extinction event, hot and humid. The so called greenhouse effect that wrapped the Earth in a warm, cosy carbon blanket allowed tropical forests to spread right across the world, even the poles were green and lush at this point.

A fierce battle now commenced for supremacy over the land among the remaining large animals. One of the competitors was actually one of the dinosaurs that had managed to survive. Although, if we were to glimpse this monster, we would refer to it as a bird (most scientists today recognise that birds are in fact feathered dinosaurs- based on anatomical similarities and DNA). It stood roughly ten feet tall, was covered in feathers, had a huge, razor sharp beak, and more worryingly for our tiny mammalian ancestors, had an insatiable taste for meat.

Another competitor for supremacy was a gigantic snake, in fact the word gigantic is really rather an understatement. Imagine walking through a hot, humid steamy South American jungle, all of a sudden the vegetation rustles violently. Very soon, you come face to face with a snake weighing more than a tonne, and measuring 50 feet in length. This snake was so large that it could swallow an entire crocodile whole without showing a bulge, so a human being would represent a mere light snack. To give you an idea of just how large this monster was, the biggest snake alive today; the giant anaconda is just half the size.

A Giant Today...A Worm Compared to its Ancestor

The Giant Anaconda is the largest snake alive today, growing up to 28 feet long, and is easily capable of swallowing a deer.
The Giant Anaconda is the largest snake alive today, growing up to 28 feet long, and is easily capable of swallowing a deer. | Source

Imagine if Indiana Jones Ever Met This Monster

Comparing Titanoboa with History's Deadliest Predators

Giants of the Past

The snake is thought to be a distant relative of both the anaconda and boa constrictor. Scientists have aptly christened it Titanoboa. Like its relatives, it did not bite, nor was it venomous. Instead, it was a constrictor, except that the forces involved were truly mind boggling. Titanoboa was able to crush its prêt with the constricting force of 400Ibs per square inch; this is equivalent of lying under the weight of one and a half Brooklyn Bridges.

Titanoboa was actually first exposed by an excavation at the Cerrejon open coal mine in Colombia in 2002. It quickly became clear to the scientists that they had stumbled across a lost world, a 58 million year old forest. As you would expect, the site was littered with fossilised leaves and plants, but they also found plenty of animal fossils. The most impressive of these by far, were the reptiles; some were so big that they literally defied even the most fertile imaginations.

The Palaeocene was an age of huge turtles, bigger than your average kitchen table and was also home to the biggest crocodiles ever known. But Titanoboa was the most exciting find of all. Initially they only found the vertebrae, but the sheer size of it offered vital clues to the enormous scale of the animal.

Indeed, this snake reigned supreme as the top predator on Earth for ten million years, effectively seizing supremacy from the dinosaurs. Its glorious reign unfortunately came to an end, probably through global cooling, and increased competition from other reptiles and also a new batch of recently evolved mammalian predators. At this time, the mammals underwent a tremendous radiation, evolving into a variety of different forms. In fact, this was the time when many modern mammal families first appeared, including our own, the primates.

While the scientists were conscious of Titanoboa’s enormity, they needed to uncover a skull in order to get a fuller picture. So, off they went back to South America to find the elusive missing piece. Expectations though, weren’t particularly high, as snake skulls normally do not preserve very well. The reason is that, unlike our own, snake skulls are connected with tissue, rather than fused together like ours, this explains why they can open their jaws extremely wide. If an animal with a fused skull like ours attempted such a thing, then the result would be a broken jaw. Due to their extraordinary skull design, when a snake normally dies, all of the connective tissue decomposes, as do all of the individual bones, but Titanoboa’s enormous proportions mean that it’s one of the few members of its family to actually make it into the fossil record.

Not only did the scientists find a skull, they actually found three, enabling them to accurately reconstruct the giant for the first time. They also learnt, that just like modern snakes, the females were much larger than the male, and were also able to gain valuable insights into Earth’s climate at the time, and perhaps give us a tantalising glimpse into the possible side effects of our present global warming episode. How did they do this? Well, snakes being reptiles are unable to regulate their own body temperature and have to rely on external heat sources to survive. The scientists theorise that Titanoboa managed to attain its enormous size because it was much warmer in the equatorial regions 60 million years ago, it may also explain the evolution of giant turtles and crocodiles.

This ability to thrive in warmer climates could be of great relevance to our present situation, and serve as proof that life is more resilient than we think. It could well be, that reptiles prove to be the ultimate winners in a world artificially warmed by the activities of humanity.

More on Titanoboa

Could the Giant Snakes Ever Return?

Of course, the chances of Titanoboa itself returning are nil, but could one of its modern relatives ever stride down the same evolutionary path? Admittedly scientists are less certain about the effects of sudden temperature change, such as the one that’s occurred over the last century and a half. One thing that is known though, is that life is amazingly adaptable. Often wholesale changes, both in climate and the environment can fuel the fires of evolution.

In Titanoboa’s time, the levels of CO2 present in the atmosphere were 50% higher than today. It sounds extraordinary to us that life can even survive at such extremes. But it really does seem that tropical plants and the entire tropical ecosystem have an uncanny ability to cope with high temperatures, and high levels of carbon as well. If current trends prove to be accurate, then there is a very good chance that a snake like the giant anaconda could take the same evolutionary path as Titanoboa, but of course such monumental changes would take millions of years, but the fact that it is within the realms of possibility, make it thoroughly intriguing.

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    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      No problem Anna, and thank you for taking the time to read and comment on one of my mine. Glad you liked it :).

    • tazzytamar profile image

      Anna 3 years ago from chichester

      400lbs per square inch?! That's astonishing! I usually skim web pages and articles but I read every word of this. Fascinating stuff - to have evolved to have that body mass and strength kind of tells us a lot about the size/weight of other dinosaurs/prehistoric animals that roamed the earth back then. Awesome article :) and thanks for your kind comment on my Sumatran tigers hub too :)

    • ravi1991 profile image

      Ashutosh Tiwari 3 years ago from Lucknow, India

      @JKenny

      Thanks for sharing such a wonderful Hub.

      I believe Amazon Snakes to be synonymous with monsters. At least the one you have described.

      Wishes

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 3 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Indeed!

    • profile image

      sam oliver 3 years ago

      fattest flipping snake man

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks you very much Nico. Glad you enjoyed it! Nice to meet a fellow paleontology geek!

    • Nico J Lorentzen profile image

      Shhhhhh! 4 years ago from Rocky Mountain Region

      Amazing indeed! A lively read for a paleontology geek like me. Good work!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you very much! Really glad you liked it.

    • Jmillis2006 profile image

      Jmillis2006 4 years ago from North Carolina

      I had never heard of this prehistoric snake before, I found this hub very interesting you did a great job.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 4 years ago

      Well Megalania is a giant Komodo Dragon so its venom would probably be more toxic then an average Komodo Dragon but then again would its teeth be able to penetrate the Boa's scales or are they to thick.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Well, it's hard to say because even though Titanoboa has the size advantage, Megalania has a venomous bite, so, for me it'd be too close to call. What do you think?

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 4 years ago

      I wonder which one would win if they fought each other titanoboa or megalania.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks sg, there's a part of me that would love to go back, and a part of me that would be too afraid of altering history. But it doesn't hurt to dream I suppose.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      I love your hubs like this! It makes me try to imagine what life would have been like 50-60 million years ago. Can you imagine coming across a snake like this! Holy Moly!!! Maybe some day we will have a time machine and we can really go back and see what life was like. Voted this up and awesome! :)

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Teresa, that's what I love about nature, its so utterly unpredictable. Even when things seem impossibly hard, life always finds a solution

    • Teresa Coppens profile image

      Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Another great prehistory hub. I love reading about creatures of the past. With creatures such as Titanoboa around it is a wonder us poor mammals even had a chance! But life, as you said, finds a way. Very interesting hub James. Well done as always.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Adama, well there's being scared of snakes, but I think everybody would be scared of Titanoboa if it were still alive. Thanks for popping by.

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      Adama Gidado 5 years ago

      Great hub. I'm very scared of snakes too but they are very interesting animals nonetheless. I'm relieved to learn that the Titanoboa no longer exists because the adventures of life might have been a little different.

    • samowhamo profile image

      samowhamo 5 years ago

      Hi JKenny I don't know if you would be interested in this or not but I just posted an article about five different species of prehistoric sharks. And also is it alright if I just call you Kenny for short.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I'm pretty sure that this creature doesn't exist. Apparently it was only able to grow so big because of the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. So one day, if CO2 levels rise significantly, one of our modern snakes may evolve into a giant.

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 5 years ago from Houston TX

      Wow! this is fascinating. Can this creature still be existing? I'm afraid, existence of this big creature could even wipe a large population.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks JP, no it certainly would be a scary era to live in. But I wouldn't mind visiting it just to get a glimpse of the giant.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      What a great read. I would not want to live in a time where such giants roamed the earth.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you Highland Terrier, appreciate the feedback immensely. Thanks for popping by.

    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Thank you for an amazing amount of information.

      And very very interesting, and extremely easy to read as well.

      Brilliant.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thank you dwachira, I love whenever someone learns something from one of my hubs, makes it all worth while. Thanks for popping by.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks vibesites, glad you liked it. Titanoboa has to be the among the most spectacular animals to have ever lived.

    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 5 years ago from United States

      I'm afraid of snakes but this hub didn't prevent me from catching my attention. What an unbelievable reptile... very interesting hub! :)

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks internpete- I don't mind snakes personally, but no I probably wouldn't want to hang around this giant for too long either. Thanks for popping by.

    • internpete profile image

      Peter V 5 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

      Fascinating hub. I am not a big fan of snakes at their current size, so I would never want to run into this giant snake!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Shirogetsu, glad you liked it. Don't worry about the spelling, one of my best friends at school was dyslexic, so I do have some understanding of the problem, and can totally sympathise with you. Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment.

    • profile image

      Shirogetsu 5 years ago

      I forgot to put that I am a terrible speller. I have Dyslexia, I had a program that taught me how to read, amazing at it now. It couldn't really help me with the spelling part though, so if there is any mis-spelling in my comment than it is because of that annoying problem.

    • profile image

      Shirogetsu 5 years ago

      Oh, my gosh! And this is why I am scared all of the time! My grandmother keeps telling me that if I keep staying afraid of everything that I can never live or be happy. Ih, maybe I should stop reading Non fictional stuff.... To bad I'm to knowledge hunger can't find any interest in a fictional book anymore, wish I hadn't got the IQ thing from her family. Why can't I be like my Mother and sister, not wanting to read everything and anything, remembering every scary bad statistic!

      Sorry for the rant, found the article very interesting and well written. I love anything to do with animals, I really love the prehistoric type. I find them fasinating!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      I'm not normally afraid of snakes, but if I ever encountered Titanoboa. I'd run for the hills. Thanks for popping by Kalux.

    • Kalux profile image

      Kalux 5 years ago from Canada

      Wow! I am terrified of snakes but just had to see. *shivers*

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Don't worry snigdha, if they do ever return, then it will be far into the future, probably long after our extinction. Thanks for popping by.

    • snigdha.s profile image

      snigdha.s 5 years ago from India,mumbai

      The strange thing about snakes is they are beautiful creatures but scary at the same time. Am glad to be born after titanoboa disappeared from this planet and I don't look forward to them returning. Interesting Hub.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Cheers Wesman, if I can find enough info, then I'll definitely write more hubs concerning this genre.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Well you know you had me from the title!!!! Great job!! Can I request more from this genre?

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks silverstararrow, it is very difficult to imagine isn't it. What's even scarier is that such a giant could one day evolve again with the way the climate is going.

    • silverstararrow profile image

      silverstararrow 5 years ago from India

      This is such an interesting and informative hub. And, terrifying to even imagine a snake of such gigantic size. The videos too are awesome.

      Voted up and interesting. Keep up the good work! :)

    • dwachira profile image

      [ Danson Wachira ] 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

      I didn't know that fact about snake skull being connected to their tissue. This is an interesting hub to read and well written too. Thanks.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks theclevercat, it is truly amazing when you consider that normally snake skulls do not fossilise that well. Titanoboa has instantly become my favourite prehistoric animal.

    • theclevercat profile image

      Rachel Vega 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Terrific hub. Just the thought of these gigantic creatures makes my skin crawl! It's amazing to think they found three of the snake skulls. Voted up and interesting.

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yeah, I saw that on the BBC, it's a pretty weird theory isn't it. I always preferred the old meteor slamming into the Earth theory myself, sounds more dramatic. Thanks for popping by, Angie.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Great hub, JK ... blimey, but that was one big snake.

      On the news this morning I heard someone had posited that the dinosaurs died out because of global warming due to the amount of methane that they ... er ... passed. It was estimated it was more the we now produce from all modern day sources of green house gases put together.

      That's a lot of breaking wind ...

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Angela, it may have lived alongside the dinosaurs, but from the sources I checked out, it seems that it lived just after the dinosaurs became extinct. Like you, I'm totally fascinated by this era in time, as it gets less coverage than the age of the dinosaurs.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Hokey Pete that snake is huge! It sounds like the titanboa lived either right after the dinosaurs became extinct, or may have lived while they were still alive. I find everything about this time period utterly fascinating!

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much rahul. I think its wonderful how creatures like these can both terrify and fascinate us at the same. I really appreciate your kind words. Thanks for the follow and the share.

    • rahul0324 profile image

      Jessee R 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      Great info kenny! I was and am really intrigued by the facts, fossils offer about the lost civilizations! The pre-historic age of History is the most difficult to recreate but efforts of skilled excavators have made it possible for us to have information like this and

      You Sir! have used the net and your creative, prolific writing style... coupled with awesome videos and pics to create a mesmerizing and some times horrific picture in our minds

      Great hub

      Sharing all over :)

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Christopher. I used to dream of time travel to the past, but I'd be more concerned of doing something that would radically alter history. Thanks for popping by, always appreciated.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Hi Jools, it can be difficult to imagine such colossal animals, mostly because we've never seen anything like them in our time. I always thought of Nessie as more of a pleisosaur, rather than a sea serpent. It'd be pretty cool if Nessie was ever proven to be real.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      The best quote I heard about extinct species is 'that they weren't failures, they were successful, but a little less often.' When you think about it, in terms of time on the earth, we're not even the most successful human. Homo erectus first appeared 2 million years ago, and only died out 30,000 years ago. So we've got a long way to go to beat that.

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I used to wish I had a time machine but, when I consider the creatures I might meet in the past, I think I would be better off without one.

      Thanks for that fascinating article James.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools99 5 years ago from North-East UK

      Great hub JK, it's difficult to imagine what we'd make of a a Titanoboa if we saw one now. I imagine it's what the Loch Ness Monster probably looks like?

    • AnimalWrites profile image

      AnimalWrites 5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Interesting hub on the Titanoboa JKenny, and although I like snakes, I wouldn't want to meet this one! I always find it amusing when people talk about extinct species as failures when they thrived for millions of years. We have only been around for a fraction of that time, so lets see if the human race can stop destroying itself before we get too cocky

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Update:

      Thanks to Alastar and Curiad for pointing out that the Titanoboa vs. T-Rex video doesn't work in the US. I've now replaced it with another. Let me know if it works across the pond. Thanks.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks very much Claire, yes you can understand why such monsters lived so long ago. Had they survived, I doubt whether man would have been able to evolve in the first place. Thanks for popping by.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Ah! You watched it too. A few of my mates on Facebook, watched it as well. It was probably the most interesting documentary I've seen for a while. Thanks for popping by, Nell.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks bdegiulio, it is truly amazing isn't it? It certainly boggles the mind, it looks like something out of the Lord of the Rings or something.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Lisa Marie, very glad you liked it. I'm also grateful for the share on Facebook, thanks very much.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Oh really! That's weird, it plays okay in Britain. Thanks for telling me, curiad. I'll get rid of it.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks for popping by John. Yes I must admit I was shocked too, when I first learned of this monster. Just glad that I'll never meet one.

    • clairemy profile image

      Claire 5 years ago

      Very interesting and informative, enjoyed this hub. I really snakes, but this one....scary,and makes you understand why dinosaurs and the like evolved long before man. Time and again I see that we were not supposed to be on the planet at the same time as these monsters.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      This was fascinating and a great read after watching it the other night. In fact you beat me too it!I was going to tackle it, and realised that I hadn't listened properly! I couldn't believe it when I saw it on tv, and you have filled in the facts nicely as I was so busy staring at the snake I forgot to listen to the information! lol! rated up! cheers nell

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Very interesting JKenny. Really enjoyed this article. Quite amazing to think that a snake of this size roamed the earth at one time. Well done.

    • LisaMarie724 profile image

      Lisa Stover 5 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Wow, one of the most interesting hubs I've read in a long time :)

    • Curiad profile image

      Mark G Weller 5 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      Awesome article JKenny, The only thing is the second video is blocked in the USA,

      Very Interesting.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub JKenny; thanks for sharing the hub bargergirl!

      This is really cool. I'm aware of the anaconda being the world's largest snake, but I had no idea that snakes this large ever existed before reading your hub.

      Enjoyed the read very much and voted up

      John

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Jesus! You have rattlesnakes in your garden! To be honest I'd probably be freaking out as well, the thought of getting bitten...

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      I think right now I am particularly freaked out by snakes... my in laws just captured a rattlesnake in their yard that attacked their dog... Now I am all freaked out. Not that I need ammo or anything! LOL ;)

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks barbergirl28, I know what you mean. We only have one venomous snake in Britain, the adder and its only a tiddler. If you get bitten by one, it'll just give you an irritating rash. Thanks for popping by.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks molometer, really glad you liked it. Thank you for popping by and for the vote.

    • JKenny profile image
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      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      RTalloni,

      I must admit that I have a fascination with cryptozoology, and it would be awesome, and also terrifying to find that they still exist somewhere. That's the great thing about nature, nothing is totally certain.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      Ummmm.... I am still shaking... I don't like snakes and if I would have come across that I am sure I would have died of fear instantly before becoming a light snack... interesting article. I am glad I don't find those kind of snakes in my backyard!

    • JKenny profile image
      Author

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Thanks Alaster, it truly was a nightmarish creature. To be honest, I'm very glad that humans weren't around at that time. The anacondas and constrictors are bad enough as they are. Thanks for popping by, my friend. Always appreciated.

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      What an incredible creature and an interesting read. Voted up and interesting.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Interesting to take a look at this snake. He's amazing! What if they're not really gone? Mt. St. Helens and other volcanoes fossilized quite a lot of living things in a very short time, so to go there and find a fossil wouldn't mean that the species is gone.

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Yes that terror bird was bad bad news for any meal it took a fancy to but holy moloney the Titanoboa is unbelievable and a true man-eating snake, assuming man had been around then. Meaty article JK- the vids top it off just right except for the last one which is blocked..