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“A majestic animal”: scientists find vertebrae of possibly largest snake ever

Scientists found 27 of the snake’s vertebrae in a mine in India’s Panandhro region, including some that would have been in exactly the same position as when the reptile was alive – almost 50 million years ago. According to the scientists, the snake, which they named Vasuki indicus, would have looked like a large modern python. She wouldn’t have been poisonous.

“Judging from its large size, Vasuki was a slow-moving predator, ambushing and subduing its prey by suffocation, much like anacondas and pythons. The snake lived in coastal swamps at a time when global temperatures were higher than today,” said Debajit Datta, the lead author of the study on the snake, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Datta and his colleagues estimate Vasuki’s length at 11 to 15 meters. This puts the beast, which was named after a Hindu snake king, in competition with another enormous prehistoric snake, Titanoboa, whose fossils were discovered in 2009 in a mine in northern Colombia. The longest snake still slithering across the face of the earth today is the reticulated python, which can grow up to nine meters in length. And for comparison, the largest known Tyrannosaurus rex – a specimen named Sue, preserved in Chicago – measures just over 40 feet (12 meters) in length.

Crocodiles as prey

“Vasuki was a majestic animal,” Datta said. When picturing the fossil, the researcher mused about “a gentle giant resting his head on his own massive body, which he had curled up for most of the day. Or that moved slowly through the swamp like an endless train.” In some ways, Datta said, “it reminds me of Kaa from The Jungle Book.”

It is not known with certainty what prey Vasuki ate, but given its large size, the researchers believe it could well have been crocodiles.

“Snakes are amazing creatures, often leaving us baffled by their size, agility and lethality,” Datta said. “People are afraid of them because some snakes are poisonous and have a fatal bite. But snakes attack people out of fear rather than with the intention to attack. I believe that snakes, like most animals, are peaceful creatures and an important part of our ecosystem.”

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