Titanoboa, the World's Biggest Prehistoric Snake

Titanoboa in Grand Central Station (Zimbio.com).

Titanoboa was a true monster among prehistoric snakes, about the size and weight of an extremely elongated school bus (and presumably a lot less fun to ride). On the following slides, you'll discover 10 unique facts about this 50-foot-long, 2,000-pound menace of the Paleocene epoch.

Titanoboa Appeared Five Million Years After the K/T Extinction

After the K/T Extinction, 65 million years ago, wiped out all the dinosaurs, it took a few million years for terrestrial life on earth to replenish itself. Appearing during the Paleocene epoch, Titanoboa (along with an assortment of prehistoric turtles and crocodiles) was one of the first plus-sized reptiles to reclaim the ecological niches left open by the demise of dinosaurs and marine reptiles at the end of the Cretaceous period (the mammals of the Paleocene epoch, meanwhile, had yet to evolve to giant sizes, an event that only transpired about 20 million years later).

Titanoboa 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's torso and squeezing tight until its victim suffocated. In fact, though, Titanoboa 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 unfortunate victim's windpipe. (In any event, when you're that big, you don't really need to smother your prey!)

Until Titanoboa, Gigantophis Was the Largest Known Prehistoric Snake

How the mighty have fallen. Until recently, the 33-foot-long, thousand-pound Gigantophis was hailed as the king of all snakes, until its reputation was eclipsed by the even bigger Titanoboa, which predated it by a whopping 40 million years. Not that Gigantophis was any less dangerous to prey than its much bigger predecessor; for example, paleontologists believe this African snake made a regular meal of the distant elephant ancestor Moeritherium. (See a gallery of prehistoric snake pictures and profiles.)

Titanoboa Was Twice as Long as the Longest Snakes Alive Today

Sure, Titanoboa was big, but let's not get carried away: this snake was barely twice as long and four times as heavy as the modern-day Giant Anaconda, the largest specimens of which measure about 25 feet from head to tail and weigh in the neighborhood of 500 pounds. Compared to most modern snakes, though, Titanoboa was a true behemoth: for example, the average cobra or rattlesnake only weighs about 10 pounds, and can easily fit into a small suitcase. (As far as we know, Titanoboa was not poisonous like these smaller reptiles.)

At its Thickest, Titanoboa Had a Diameter of Three Feet

When a snake is as long and as heavy as Titanoboa, the rules of physics and biology don't afford the luxury of evenly spacing out that weight along the entire length of its body, as if it were a giant hot dog. Titanoboa was noticeably thicker toward the center of its trunk than it was at either end, and after it chowed down on a giant turtle or crocodile, its paunch would presumably have been swollen enough to make it look like an inexpertly rolled glob of prehistoric Play-Doh. 

Titanoboa Shared its Habitat with the Giant Turtle Carbonemys

The swamps of early Paleocene South America wouldn't be an ideal destination for faint-hearted time travelers. The remains of the one-ton snapping turtle Carbonemys have been discovered in the same general vicinity as the fossils of Titanoboa, and it's not inconceivable that these two giant reptiles mixed it up occasionally, if only by accident or when they were feeling especially touchy or hungry (a scenario that's explored in more depth in Titanoboa vs. Carbonemys: Who Wins?)

Titanoboa Lived in an Extremely Hot and Humid Climate

South America recovered fairly quickly from the plunging global temperatures in the wake of the Yucatan meteor impact 65 million years ago, which threw up clouds of dust that obscured the sun, and which rendered first plant-eating, and then meat-eating, dinosaurs extinct. During the Paleocene epoch, modern-day Peru and Colombia had positively tropical climates with high humidity and average temperatures in the 90's--and cold-blooded reptiles like Titanoboa tend to grow to much larger sizes in warmer climates! 

Titanoboa Was Probably the Color of a Dirty Car Mat

Unlike the case with some contemporary poisonous snakes, brightly colored markings would have been of no use whatsoever to Titanoboa, which made its living by sneaking up on prey and mashing it into paste. In fact, pretty much all of the plus-sized reptiles in Titanoboa's habitat were unremarkable to look at and even harder to see; if you were miraculously transported back to Paleocene South America, you'd probably be chomped in half by a hard-to-see, algae-colored crocodile before you even got your iPhone out!

A Life-Sized Titanoboa Was One Displayed in Grand Central Station

In March of 2012, the Smithsonian Institution installed a 48-foot-long model of Titanoboa in Grand Central Station, New York's busiest commuter rail terminal, during evening rush hour. As a museum spokesman was quoted by The Huffington Post, the exhibit was meant to "scare the hell out of people"--and, not coincidentally, also to call their attention to an upcoming Smithsonian TV special, "Titanoboa: Monster Snake." Fortunately, panic did not ensue, though a few commuters found it difficult to reach their trains.

As Big as it Was, Titanoboa Was a Shrimp Compared to Most Dinosaurs

At this point, you may be wondering: why all this fuss about a prehistoric snake that tipped the scales at "only" a ton, when some of the plant-eating dinosaurs that preceded it weighed literally a hundred times more? You can chalk this up to many peoples' natural (if somewhat irrational) fear of snakes, and their equally natural (and much less irrational) fear of giant, camouflaged, crocodile-eating menaces like Titanoboa,