Planet Earth

Meet Titanoboa: The Biggest Snake In the World

What was the biggest snake in the world? Titanoboa, similar to today's anaconda, made a meal of other reptiles. Learn how big Titanoboa was and why it went extinct.

By Sara NovakDec 22, 2023 12:00 PM
Prehistoric giant snake Titanoboa in a landscape
(Credit:MR1805/Getty Images)

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It was the first epoch after the age of dinosaurs in a part of the world that had recently recovered from an asteroid blast of epic magnitudes. The blast birthed the tropical rainforests along the equator that exist today.

A landscape that was damp and swampy, covered in dense tropical foliage — ample places for Titanoboa to hide.

Titanoboa, the biggest snake in the world, has captured our imagination and provides a window into the prehistoric world. It remains a subject of interest and study in paleontology, providing insights into ancient ecosystems and the evolutionary history of reptiles.

Titanoboa cerrejonensis: The Biggest Snake in the World

(Credit: Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock)

Titanoboa cerrejonensis lived during the Paleocene around 58 to 60 million years ago. It thrived alongside other enormous species like 13-foot crocodiles and 8-foot turtles. They might have looked similar to today's anaconda snake, only much larger. 

It was the beginning of the age of mammals, but they hadn’t yet had time to grow. Still small and scattered about, trying desperately to escape the wrath of the giant reptiles that were booming in a much warmer climate. Mammals hadn’t yet had the time to diversify and fill all the niches they do today. 


Read More: These 3 Prehistoric Snakes Are the Stuff of Nightmares


Titanoboa Facts

(Credit: Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock)

Titanoboa Size: How Big Was the Titanoboa?

According to Carlos Jaramillo, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, 

Titanoboa was about 45 feet on average, which is a third larger than the green anaconda snake, the largest snake that exists today. Jaramillo and his team have built two life-size models of the beastly snake to show its sheer size. “It is only when you are standing next to it that you realize how big it truly was,” he says.

Titanoboa Habitat: Where Did Titanoboa Live?

Titanoboa used to live in the area that is now known as northeastern Colombia. The specific region where its fossils have been found is the Cerrejón Formation in La Guajira, Colombia. 

Titanoboa Diet: What Did Titanoboa Eat?

The biggest snake in the world was too heavy to live in trees. So Titanoboa would have occupied the ground, living close to the water, inactive most of the time and waiting patiently to pounce on its prey.

Titanoboa could easily overpower and consume any number of giant turtles or crocodiles that fell victim to its forceful bite. “It would have swallowed them whole and digested them for months, eating three to four times per year,” says Jaramillo. Huge turtles with broken shells have also been excavated, which likely resulted from turtles that were attacked by the giant creature but somehow survived.


Read More: Why and Where Snakes Hibernate


Where Have Titanoboa Fossils Been Found?

(Credit: Dotted Yeti/shutterstock

All of the remains of Titanoboa thus far have been found in a coal mine deep in the rainforests of Colombia and were described in research first published in 2009 in the journal Nature. They speak of a time when a warmer climate birthed enormous species that thrived in the thick humidity.

According to the study, “the great size of this 58 to 60 million-year-old snake indicates a mean annual neotropical temperature of 30-34 °C (86-93 °F), substantially higher than previous estimates for that period.” Since then, the coal mine has uncovered several specimens, showing that they were likely one of the more abundant species living in the habitat.



Read More: 10 of the World's Deadliest Snakes


Titanoboa vs. Megalodon: Who Would Win in a Fight?

Since they lived during different times, a hypothetical battle between Titanoboa and Megalodon, the giant ancient shark, would heavily depend on the environment. 

Titanoboa, thriving in terrestrial and freshwater environments, was an adept constrictor, capable of overpowering large prey with its immense size and strength. 

Megalodon, on the other hand, ruled the oceans with its enormous size, estimated to be up to 60 feet long, and powerful jaws equipped for hunting large marine mammals. 

If such a confrontation were possible, Titanoboa might dominate on land or in shallow water, using its constricting ability, while Megalodon would undoubtedly have the upper hand in deep water, leveraging its sheer size and predatory skills.


Read More: What Are the Most Venomous Sea Snakes in the World?


When Did the Titanoboa Go Extinct?

(Credit:MR1805/Getty Images)

Scientists are not sure when Titanoboa went extinct but it could have had to do with climate change. During the Paleocene Epoch, this part of the world illustrates an ecosystem where there’s no ice on the poles and temperatures are hotter and more humid in the rainforest. Still, it’s also a difficult place to study, says Jonathan Bloch, a paleontologist at the University of Florida.

“We know very little about it, especially around the equator (where Titanoboa would have lived) because it’s hard to find fossils in a place that has such abundant biodiversity,” says Bloch.

To find fossils, you also have to be able to see and explore rocks that hide in the rainforest because they are often covered by vegetation. “Most of our understanding of the Paleocene comes from higher latitude localities that are in more desert regions,” Bloch says.

Why Did Titanoboa Go Extinct?

Because fossils are so hard to find, we’re also not sure exactly why Titanoboa went extinct. It could have just gone extinct as many animals do and given rise to the smaller set of snake species that now call the rainforest home. 


Read More: Did Humans Hunt the Biggest Animals to Extinction?


As the world cooled off, species got smaller, so it begs to question whether a warmer planet could birth the enormous reptiles of yesteryear. Bloch is skeptical because much of the habitat where the Titanoboa snake and other species thrived in the tropical rainforest has been diminished and deforested by an even greater predator known as humans.


Frequently Asked Questions About Titanoboa

Is Titanoboa Real?

Yes, Titanoboa was a real species of snake that lived millions of years ago. Scientists have confirmed its existence through fossil evidence.

What Is a Titanoboa?

Titanoboa was a prehistoric snake, also known as the largest snake to have ever existed, and lived during the Paleocene Epoch.

What Was Titanoboa’s Weight?

The weight of Titanoboa was estimated to be around 1,135 kg (2,500 pounds).

How Long Is the Titanoboa?

Titanoboa was approximately 45 feet in length.

Do We Have a Titanoboa Skull?

No, fossilized remains of Titanoboa include vertebrae and other skeletal parts, but a complete skull has not been definitively identified. 

Is the Titanoboa Still Alive?

No, Titanoboa is not still alive. It went extinct around 58 to 60 million years ago.


Read More: 5 Of The Biggest Animals To Ever Live On Earth


This article was originally published on Aug. 9, 2023 and has since been updated by the Discover staff.

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