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Jurassic World: Herpetology Edition

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With the arrival of the Jurassic World movie to theaters, the public is getting swept up in a dino craze! Due to their often massive size and fierce disposition, dinosaurs have always been popular in modern culture with iconic favorites like the T. Rex, triceratops, and velociraptor. But the dinosaurs weren’t the only giants stomping around millions of years ago, and some of their huge contemporaries were truly terrifying, including…

A Giant Snake as Long as a Bus

In 2009, paleontologists unearthed the remains of a gigantic snake previously unknown to science. Found in La Guajira, Colombia, the snake was dubbed Titanoboa, and quickly became an internet sensation. At about 45 feet long and weighing in around 2,500 lbs, the Titanoboa was the largest snake to ever exist. Living during the Paleocene epoch (the time period immediately following the dinosaur extinction), Titanoboa is believed to have been very similar to a modern day anaconda. Green anacondas are the heaviest snakes alive today, and are world famous for their habit of crushing their prey to death. Unlike the anaconda, it is believe that Titanoboa may not have constricted its prey, but rather clamped down on it with powerful jaws, much like a crocodile.

The River Turtle the Size of a Boat

Archelon, a giant, leathery-shelled sea turtle, was long believed to be the largest turtle to ever live. But it was recently discovered that an even larger prehistoric creature was dwelling in the murky Miocene rivers. With a carapace measuring more than 11 feet long, Stupendemys is now confirmed to be the largest turtle to ever exist. This freshwater giant was a species of side-neck turtle (these turtles do not pull their head into their shell, but rather tuck their head and neck to the side to protect them) that fed on aquatic vegetation. Due to their immense weight, it is hypothesized that these turtles were weak swimmers and simply lumbered slowly across the river bottom. At such an immense size, it’s hard to imagine anything could dine on Stupendemys, but tooth marks scarring ancient shells have suggested that some ancient predator certainly tried. Could a massive super-predator have caused the Stupendemys to grow to its incredible size?

A Super Croc with Jaws as Long as a Person

Hailing from the Cretaceous Period, Sarcosuchus is the largest crocodile-like reptile to have ever existed. This behemoth was about 40 feet long, with 5 foot jaws, and weighed in at a whopping 8 tons. Sarcosuchus is believed to have had a similar diet and behavior as the present day Nile crocodile, likely feeding on large animals that frequented the water’s edge. Because of its imposing size, it’s widely accepted that this giant croc relative likely fed on dinosaurs that strayed too close. While today’s crocs tear meat off of their prey by “death-rolling”, the bio-mechanics of the Sarcosuchus’ skull has shown that it was not capable of this maneuver. It likely hunted large prey, but it’s still not known exactly how.

The Lizard that Was an Ancient Dragon

Imagine a Komodo dragon, the largest lizard alive today. Now imagine that same lizard scaled up to be about 26 feet long; this is the form of the ancient Megalania. This ancient reptile was a monitor, part of the same group of lizards as the Komodo dragon, likely feeding on medium to large sized mammals, birds, reptiles and eggs. Today, Komodo dragons are recognized as being venomous lizards; because the Megalania is so closely related, it’s very possible that it too was venomous, making it the largest venomous vertebrate known. Today, there are rare reports from Australia and New Guinea that the Megalania still exists, however these reports only began after the discovery became publicly known, and there is no evidence that there is a surviving population (whew!).

The Frog that Ate Young Dinosaurs

A fearsome predator, this amphibious nightmare has a very formidable name: Beelzebufo named after Beelzebub, a contemporary name for the Devil. Resembling modern day horned toads, Beelzebufo may have grown to over 16 inches, making it the largest frog known to exist. Like pac-man frogs, this ancient amphibian had an expansive mouth that could engulf very large prey, possibly including hatchling dinosaurs. Beelzebufo was recently discovered to be covered in a form of armor, with bony scutes on its head and back for protection. Though not exceedingly large for a prehistoric creature, this frog had a gigantic appetite!

The Salamander as Large as Your Car

In 2008, a large creature resembling a crocodile was found by paleontologists in Antarctica. Name Kryostega, this animal was no reptile, but rather a large amphibian closely related to salamanders…with very large teeth. Kryostega belonged to an ancient group of amphibians called themnospondyls, salamander-like creatures that bore teeth. But Kryostega had exceedingly large teeth that were more than an inch long and as thick as an adult human’s pinky finger. At about 15 feet long, this super salamander looked and behaved much like a crocodile, chomping down on its prey with vicious force.

So take note, Spielberg! There are plenty of toothy giants living in the past to feature in your next hit film (Titanoboa Vs. T. Rex, anybody?).  And to my followers, the next time you see a snake in your yard, just remind yourself how lucky you are. His great, great ancestor may have eaten crocodiles!

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