Can the giant snake predict palaeoclimate?

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Arising from: J. J. Head et al. Nature 457, 715–717 (2009)10.1038/nature07671; Head et al. reply

In their report on Titanoboa cerrejonensis, Head et al.1 propose that the great size of this 58 to 60 million-year-old snake (estimated length = 13 m, mass = 1,135 kg) indicates a mean annual neotropical temperature (MAT) of 30–34 °C, substantially higher than previous estimates for that period. They argue that the high MAT was necessary to compensate for the decreased mass-specific metabolic rate intrinsic to a snake of this size. However, the relationship on which Head et al.1 base their conclusion does not account for the scope of behavioural control over body temperature available to Titanoboa due to its huge mass. Our calculations suggest that because of its ability to behaviourally control its body temperature, Titanoboa cannot serve as an accurate palaeothermometer.

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Figure 1: Body temperature of a coiled snake at thermal equilibrium is increased above ambient air temperature.


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Denny, M., Lockwood, B. & Somero, G. Can the giant snake predict palaeoclimate?. Nature 460, E3–E4 (2009) doi:10.1038/nature08224

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