Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Can the giant snake predict palaeoclimate?

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

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

References

  1. Head, J. J. et al. Giant boid snake from the Paleocene neotropics reveals hotter past equatorial temperatures. Nature 457, 715–717 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Makarieva, A. M., Gorshkov, V. G. & Li, B.-L. Gigantism, temperature and metabolic rate in terrestrial poikilotherms. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 272, 2325–2328 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Denny, M. W. Air & Water: The Physics of Life’s Media 145–173 (Princeton, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  4. Gates, D. M. Biophysical Ecology 12–24; 382–427 (Dover, 1980)

    Google Scholar 

  5. Chappell, M. A. & Ellis, T. M. Resting metabolic rates in boid snakes: allometric relationships and temperature effects. J. Comp. Physiol. [B] 157, 227–235 (1987)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Denny, M. W. & Harley, C. D. G. Hot limpets: predicting body temperature in a conductance-mediated system. J. Exp. Biol. 209, 2409–2419 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature08224

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing