‘Monster Snake’ size of bus slithers into Florida Museum Saturday

Published: January 23rd, 2013

Category: Announcements, InsideUF, Top Stories

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors to the Florida Museum of Natural History can see the largest snake that ever roamed the Earth during the opening of “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Activities range from screenings of the Smithsonian Channel documentary to a panel discussion and individual presentations by scientists who discovered fossils of the 2,500-pound reptile in a Colombian coal mine in 2004.

“It is a rare opportunity for museum visitors to interact with part of the team who discovered ‘Titanoboa,’ ” said Florida Museum education assistant Amanda Harvey. “The new exhibit also features a working paleontology lab similar to the one in the ‘Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway’ exhibit last year, which was extremely popular with our visitors. Museum scientists and volunteers will be working on fossils from the same location, including a recently discovered Titanoboa skeleton that is the most complete specimen recovered and includes parts of the skull.”

Other opening day activities include a life-size puzzle of the 48-foot-long Titanoboa, the Alachua County Library bookmobile featuring books about reptiles, and paleontology, botany and other displays from museum scientists and community organizations.

Darcie MacMahon, Florida Museum of Natural History assistant director for exhibits, will moderate the 10:30 a.m. panel discussion with scientists who will answer questions and talk about the discovery, excavation and implications of the massive reptile.

“We’re thrilled to showcase the amazing story of Titanoboa,” MacMahon said. “Along with its companions — a host of turtles and crocodiles new to science and the planet’s first rain forest, Titanoboa is guaranteed to inspire people about life in the Paleocene and the nature of scientific discovery.”

The researchers include Jonathan Bloch, Florida Museum associate curator of vertebrate paleontology; Jason Head of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; former University of Florida department of geological sciences and Florida Museum graduate student Alex Hastings, who now teaches at Georgia Southern University, and Florida Museum graduate assistant Fabiany Herrera. Each scientist also will give brief individual presentations and answer questions from visitors.

“Truly enormous snakes really spark people’s imagination, but reality has exceeded the fantasies of Hollywood,” said Bloch, who led the international discovery team with Carlos Jaramillo, a paleobotanist from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. “The snake that tried to eat Jennifer Lopez in the movie ‘Anaconda’ is not as big as the one we found.”

The exhibit tells the story of Titanoboa cerrejonensis, which ruled the jungles of South America 60 million years ago as the top predator, able to crush and devour giant crocodiles and other animals.

Featuring real fossils and a full-scale model of the snake, as well as plant and other animal fossils from the same site, the Florida Museum is the only venue to display actual Titanoboa fossils.

The exhibit features a re-created scene of the discovery site, clips from the Smithsonian Channel documentary on Titanoboa and comparative, but much smaller, specimens from modern snakes. Along with Titanoboa, the other prehistoric plant and animal fossils from the site reveal information on the earliest-known rain forest teeming with life and dating to the Paleocene Epoch, the lost world that followed the demise of the dinosaurs.

Through interpretive graphics and computer-generated imagery videos, visitors may examine what Titanoboa ate, where it lived and why it grew to its enormous size.

While opening day activities are free, admission to “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” is $6 for adults, $5 for Florida residents, seniors and college students and $4.50 for ages 3-17. Museum members receive free admission.

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Florida Museum, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. It is circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

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