Life Thrived When Earth Was Far Warmer than Now

SnakeLargest2009-02-16.jpg “An artist’s rendering of the prehistoric snake Titanoboa cerrejonensis, which was 42 feet long and lived 60 million years ago.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A7) Some 60 million years ago, well after the demise of the dinosaurs, a giant relative of today’s boa constrictors, weighing more than a ton and measuring 42 feet long, hunted crocodiles in rain-washed tropical forests in northern South America, according to a new fossil discovery.
. . .
But the existence of such a large snake may also help clarify how hot the tropics became during an era when the planet, as a whole, was far warmer than it is now, and also how well moist tropical ecosystems can tolerate a much warmer global climate.

That last question is important in assessments of how human-driven global warming might affect the tropics.
. . .
The team examined how warm it had to be for a snake species to be that large by considering conditions favoring the largest living similar tropical snake, the green anaconda, said Jason J. Head, the lead author of the paper and a paleontologist at the University of Toronto. They concluded that Titanoboa could have thrived only if temperatures ranged from 86 to 93 degrees.

For the full story, see:
ANDREW C. REVKIN. “Fossils of Largest Snake Give Hint of Hot Earth.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 4, 2009): A7.
(Note: ellipses added.)

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