Titanoboa, which measured up to 45 feet long, was the world's longest ever snake. This gigantic boa constrictor- like snake lived 60 million years ago in what is now northern Colombia. Based on a fossil find reported this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, University of Florida researchers now think its prey included a 6 to 7-foot-long distant relative of crocodiles.
Remains of the croc-like animal were found close to the imposing snake. It's the first ever crocodyliform to be identified from the site, the Cerrejon Formation.
"We're starting to flesh out the fauna that we have from there," said lead author Alex Hastings, a graduate student at the Florida Museum and UF's department of geological sciences.
Hastings thinks the newly identified species, named Cerrejonisuchus improcerus, would've been easy pickings for Titanoboa. Although Cerrejonisuchus is not directly linked to modern crocodiles, it was an important member of South American rainforest ecosystems, according to Jonathan Bloch, a Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist and associate curator.
"Clearly this new fossil would have been part of the food-chain, both as predator and prey," said Bloch, who co-led the fossil-hunting expeditions to Cerrejon with Smithsonian paleobotanist Carlos Jaramillo. "Giant snakes today are known to eat crocodylians, and it is not much of a reach to say Cerrejonisuchus would have been a frequent meal for Titanoboa. Fossils of the two are often found side-by-side."
Today's anacondas, for example, are known to gulp down caimans in the Amazon. Titanoboa could've swallowed such toothy prey as though it were an appetizer.
Cerrejonisuchus improcerus had a fairly short snout, especially for the Dyrosauridae, a family of now-extinct crocodyliforms to which it belonged. Based on its anatomy, the scientists suspect it ate frogs, lizards, small snakes and possibly certain mammals.
"It seems that Cerrejonisuchus managed to tap into a feeding resource that wasn't useful to other larger crocodyliforms," Hastings said.