Titanoboa, the World's Biggest Prehistoric Snake

This 50-foot-long, 2,000-pound monster hunted like a crocodile, not a snake

titanoboa
Titanoboa in Grand Central Station (Zimbio.com).

Titanoboa was a true monster among prehistoric snakes, the size and weight of an extremely elongated school bus. Research has indicated that the giant snake looked like a boa constrictor—hence its name—but hunted like a crocodile. Here are nine facts about this 50-foot-long, 2,000-pound menace of the Paleocene epoch:

Appeared 5 Million Years After the K/T Extinction

After the K/T Extinction, an event—probably a massive meteor strike— that wiped out all the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, it took a few million years for terrestrial life to replenish itself. Appearing during the Paleocene epoch, Titanoboa was one of the first plus-size reptiles to reclaim the ecological niches left by dinosaurs and marine reptiles at the end of the Cretaceous period. The mammals of the Paleocene epoch had yet to evolve to giant sizes, which happened 20 million years later.

Looked Like a Boa Constrictor but Hunted Like a Crocodile

You might assume from its name that the "titanic boa" hunted like a modern-day boa constrictor, wrapping itself around its prey and squeezing until its victim suffocated. Titanoboa, however, probably attacked its prey in more dramatic fashion: slithering close to its blissfully unaware lunch while half-submerged in the water and then, with a sudden leap, snapping its massive jaws around its victim's windpipe.

Replaced Gigantophis as the Largest Known Prehistoric Snake

For years, the 33-foot-long, thousand-pound Gigantophis was hailed as the king of snakes. Then its reputation was eclipsed by the even bigger Titanoboa, which predated it by 40 million years. Not that Gigantophis was less dangerous than its bigger predecessor; Paleontologists believe that this African snake made a regular meal of the distant elephant ancestor Moeritherium.

Twice as Long as Today's Longest Snakes

Titanoboa was only twice as long and four times as heavy as the modern-day giant anaconda, the largest specimens of which measure 25 feet from head to tail and weigh 500 pounds. Compared to most modern snakes, however, Titanoboa was a true behemoth. The average cobra or rattlesnake weighs about 10 pounds and can easily fit into a small suitcase. It is believed that Titanoboa wasn't poisonous, like these smaller reptiles.

3 Feet in Diameter at Its Thickest

With a snake as long and heavy as Titanoboa, the rules of physics and biology don't afford the luxury of evenly spacing that weight along the length of its body. Titanoboa was thicker toward the center of its trunk than it was at either end, reaching a maximum diameter of three feet.

Shared Habitat With the Giant Turtle Carbonemys

Remains of the one-ton snapping turtle Carbonemys were discovered in the same vicinity as the fossils of Titanoboa. It's not inconceivable that these giant reptiles mixed it up occasionally, by accident or when they were especially hungry.

Lived in a Hot, Humid Climate

South America recovered fairly quickly from the plunging global temperatures in the wake of the K/T Extinction, when a giant meteor is believed to have struck the Yucatan, throwing up clouds of dust that obscured the sun and rendered dinosaurs extinct. During the Paleocene epoch, modern-day Peru and Colombia had tropical climates, and cold-blooded reptiles such as Titanoboa tended to grow much larger in the high humidity and average temperatures in the 90s. 

Probably the Color of Algae

Unlike some contemporary poisonous snakes, Titanoboa wouldn't have benefited from brightly colored markings. The giant snake hunted by sneaking up on its prey. Most of the plus-size reptiles in Titanoboa's habitat were algae-colored and difficult to see against the landscape, making it easier to find dinner.

Life-Size Model Once Displayed in Grand Central Station

In March 2012, the Smithsonian Institution installed a 48-foot-long model of Titanoboa in New York's Grand Central Station during evening rush hour. A museum spokesman told The Huffington Post that the exhibit was meant to "scare the hell out of people"—and to call their attention to an upcoming Smithsonian TV special, "Titanoboa: Monster Snake."