World’s largest snake comes to life at the Florida Museum beginning Jan. 26

December 19th, 2012

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This artist’s rendering shows how the 48-foot-long, 2,500-pound Titanoboa may have looked in its natural environment 60 million years ago.
Florida Museum illustration by Jason Bourque

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The world’s largest snake will soon slither into town as the Florida Museum of Natural History opens its newest temporary exhibit “Titanoboa: Monster Snake.”

Opening Jan. 26, 2013, the exhibit tells the story of the 48-foot, 2,500-pound giant Titanoboa cerrejonensis, recently discovered in a Colombian coal mine by an international team led in part by Florida Museum researchers. The monster snake ruled the jungles of South America 60 million years ago as the top predator, able to crush and devour giant crocodiles and other animals.

A scientifically accurate full-scale replica of the massive reptile is displayed in the museum’s new exhibit, “Titanoboa: Monster Snake,” opening Jan. 26, 2013.
Smithsonian Institution photo by James Di Loreto

Featuring real fossils and a full-scale model of Titanoboa, as well as plant and other animal fossils from the same site, the exhibit explores the discovery, reconstruction and implications of this giant reptile. The Florida Museum will be the first to display actual Titanoboa fossils, and will also feature a working paleontology lab where visitors can observe and speak with scientists and volunteers preparing specimens discovered from the Cerrejón coal mine.

“We’re thrilled to showcase the amazing story of Titanoboa, the largest snake that ever lived,” said Darcie MacMahon, Florida Museum of Natural History assistant director for exhibits. “Along with its companions, including a host of turtles and crocodile relatives new to science and the planet’s first rain forest, Titanoboa is guaranteed to inspire people about life in the Paleocene and the nature of scientific discovery.”

Florida Museum researcher Jonathan Bloch compares vertebrae from Titanoboa cerrejonensis, left, with one from a 17-foot anaconda.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

The exhibit features a recreated scene of the discovery site, clips from the Smithsonian Channel documentary on Titanoboa and comparative, but much smaller, specimens from modern snakes. Along with Titanoboa, the other prehistoric plant and animal fossils from the site reveal information on the earliest-known rain forest teeming with life and dating to the Paleocene Epoch, the lost world that followed the demise of the dinosaurs.

Through interpretive graphics and computer-generated imagery videos, visitors may examine what Titanoboa ate, where it lived and why it grew to its enormous size.

Titanoboa was discovered by an international team of researchers led by Florida Museum of Natural History vertebrate paleontology associate curator Jonathan Bloch and Carlos Jaramillo, a paleobotanist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Florida Museum graduate students Jason Bourque and Alex Hastings also contributed to the study and helped identify the fossils of the massive snake.

“We are really happy about the opportunity to show off the past world of this amazing animal,” said Hastings, who worked on extinct crocodile relatives that lived with Titanoboa as a graduate student at the Florida Museum and is now teaching in the geology and geography department at Georgia Southern University.

“Truly enormous snakes really spark people’s imagination, but reality has exceeded the fantasies of Hollywood,” Bloch said. “The snake that tried to eat Jennifer Lopez in the movie ‘Anaconda’ is not as big as the one we found. We hope this will provide an exciting hook to bring people to the exhibit to learn more about how fossils can be used to understand the origins of neotropical biodiversity and the role that climate plays in the history of life.”

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Florida Museum, the University of Nebraska and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. It is circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

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Source: Darcie MacMahon, dmacmahon@flmnh.ufl.edu, 352-273-2053
Writer: Katina Prokos, kprokos@flmnh.ufl.edu
Media contact: Paul Ramey, APR; pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu, 352-273-2054