Discover Fossils & Paleontology

Research Highlights

Titanoboa

Florida Museum scientists and students played a critical role in the discovery of the largest snake the world has ever known - as long as a school bus and as heavy as a small car –which ruled tropical ecosystems only 6 million years after the demise of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.

Jon Bloch holding Titanoboa vertebrae compared to modern snake

Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist Jonathan Bloch shows the size difference between vertebrae belonging to Titanoboa cerrejonensis and a modern-day anaconda.

Partial skeletons of the giant, boa constrictor-like snake, named Titanoboa cerrejonensis, were found in Colombia by an international team of scientists including Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist Jonathan Bloch and are now housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Based on the diameter of the fossilized vertebrae, the snake is estimated to be 42 to 45 feet long.  Besides tipping the scales at an estimated 1.25 tons, the snake lived during the Paleocene Epoch, a 10-million-year period immediately following the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

During the expedition, the scientists found many skeletons of giant turtles and extinct primitive crocodile relatives that likely were eaten by the snake. The snake's gigantic dimensions are a sign that temperatures along the equator were once much hotter.  Based on the snake's size, the team was able to calculate the mean annual temperature at equatorial South America 60 million years ago was about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 degrees warmer than today.

The discovery of Titanoboa resulted in a collaboration between the Florida Museum, Smithsonian Institution and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and University of Nebraska to create a feature-length documentary film, Titanoboa: Monster Snake which premiered on the Smithsonian Channel April 1, 2012.  An exhibit of the same title opened at the National Museum of Natural History on March 30 and will travel to the Florida Museum as well as other national and international venues.

Panama Canal Project - PIRE

Grad student fossil hunting in Panama with PIRE

Graduate student Aldo Rincon looks for fossils at Las Cascadas Quarry in Panama.

The Panama Canal is currently being expanded on a scale not seen since the original excavations one hundred years ago. During this current expansion, important new Neogene fossiliferous deposits are being uncovered. The mission of the PCP PIRE is toadvance knowledge of the extinct faunas and floras of the ancient Neotropics based on the new fossil discoveries along the Canal. Consistent with NSF's PIRE program objectives, university students (undergraduate and graduate), postdocs, and faculty are engaging in PCP paleontological, geological, and biological research and Broader Impacts outreach. The ultimate outcome of the PCP PIRE will be to promote discovery and advance knowledge while training the next generation of scientists better able to engage in international experiences.

Vertebrate Evolution

Recent research at the Florida Museum sheds new light on the origins of primates. Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Jonathan Bloch led a team of scientists in discovering two 56-million-year-old fossils in Wyoming, the most primitive primate skeletons ever described. After exhaustive study of the fossils, Bloch and his colleagues presented strong evidence that this archaic group of mammals called plesiadapiforms may be more closely related to modern primates than to any other mammal group, and the ancestors of modern primates. This research extends the primate family tree 10 million years back in time. By researching the earliest stages of primate evolution, Bloch and his colleagues can more effectively trace the multitude of anatomical changes that have taken place in the numerous lineages of primates.

 

Other Paleontology Research & Resources

Fossil Horses in Cyberspace

Learn about paleontology and evolution by exploring the rich fossil record of horses.

Invertebrate Paleontology Image Gallery

Aturia alabamensis from IVP collection

Fossil cephalopod | Aturia alabamensis

Image galleries of fossil bivalves, cephalopods, corals, crabs, shrimps, gastropods, sand dollars, sea urchins, sea biscuits, sea stars and much more.

Paleobotany and Palynology Image Gallery

A selection of fossil plant and pollen images.

Science Stories Archive - Evolution and Extinction

The Science Stories site is an ongoing collection of news articles about Florida Museum natural science research. From collecting expeditions to new discoveries by Museum researchers, Science Stories covers a range of topics for aspiring scientists and curious spectators.

Shared Paleontology Resources

Resources available to students, teachers, professional and avocation paleontologists, and the general public who are interested in fossils from Florida (and elsewhere).

Thomas Farm

Thomas Farm is the richest Early Miocene vertebrate fossil locality in North America and perhaps in the entire world. Since its discovery in 1931, the fossils of more than 100 species have been found at Thomas Farm.

 

Museum Paleontology Collections

Terry Lott in paleobotany collection

Collection manager Terry Lott holds a specimen from the paleobotany collection.

Visit these Museum collection websites for more information:

 

Museum Exhibits

Visiting the Florida Museum? You can learn more about fossils and paleontology in these permanent exhibits: