Vasuki Index: 50-feet-long prehistoric snake discovered in India

s. Bajpai/Dr. data/r. Verma

A realistic reconstruction of the monumental vertebrae of Vasuki Indicus viewed from above.

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A giant prehistoric snake, longer than a school bus, slithered around what is now India 47 million years ago, new research shows.

The extinct snake was probably one of the largest snakes that ever lived, dwarfed by anacondas and modern snakes that can grow to about 6 meters (20 feet). The scientific name for the massive creature is Vasuki indicus, after the mythical serpent that coils around the neck of the Hindu god Lord Shiva and the country in which it was discovered.

The snake is likely a slow-moving predator that subdues its prey by constricting or squeezing it to death, according to the study that appeared Thursday in Scientific Reports Journal.

The report's authors, based at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee in Uttarakhand state, analyzed 27 fossilized vertebrae — some still connected to each other — that were discovered in 2005 in a coal mine in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

At first, the team thought the bones belonged to an ancient crocodile-like creature. It wasn't until researchers removed sediment from the fossils during the initial phase of the study in 2023 that they realized they were “looking at the remains of an exceptionally large snake,” the researchers said.

The study said that the vertebrae appear to belong to a fully developed animal.

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“There are a number of possible reasons for their large size that range from a favorable environment with abundant food resources to a lack of natural predators,” co-authors Dibajit Datta, a postdoctoral fellow, and Sunil Bajpai, a professor of paleontology, said in a joint email. .

“Another driving force may be the spread of climate conditions that are warmer than they currently are,” they said.

Based on the size of the preserved vertebrae, the researchers estimated that the snake was 10.9 meters (36 ft) to 15.2 meters (50 ft) long, based on two different calculations, with a broad, cylindrical body.

s. Bajpai/Dr. data/r. Verma

A panoramic view of the Panandro lignite mine, in the western Indian state of Gujarat, showing the excavation level (red arrow) where the giant snake Vasuki indicus was found.

Debajit and Bajpai said they believe the animal lived on land rather than water, like an anaconda, but it was unlikely to have been hanging out in trees due to its size.

Estimates of body length “should be treated with caution” because they do not include a complete skeleton, the authors said. However, the snake was competing The largest known snake species is the extinct Titanoboa – In size.

Identified from fossils in Colombia, Titanoboa weighed 1,140 kg (2,500 lb) and measured 13 meters (42.7 ft) from nose to tip of tail.

The size of the snake and the role of climate

Snakes are cold-blooded and need heat from the environment to survive. So its size depends on how warm the climate is.

“The body's internal temperature fluctuates with the ambient temperature of the environment,” the authors said. “So, higher ambient temperatures would have increased Vasuki’s internal body temperature and metabolic rate, which in turn would have allowed him to grow exponentially.”

The team was able to conclude, based on information about the size and metabolism of living snakes and current temperatures, that Vasuki lived in a warm tropical climate, with an average annual temperature of 28 °C (82 °F).

Datta and Bajpai said the snake lives in a coastal swamp.

“We cannot say specifically what kind of animal Vasuki ate,” they said. “Associated fossils collected from the rocks that produced Vasuki include rays, bony fishes (catfish), turtles, crocodiles, and even primitive whales. Vasuki may have preyed on some of these.”

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