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Project director of Smithsonian Institution Cheryl Washer speaks about upcoming Titanoboa exhibit

March, 18, 2016

POCATELLO – During a March visit, Cheryl Washer, registrar and project director for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, gave a behind-the-scenes explanation of Idaho Museum of Natural History’s new “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” exhibit, which opens March 18.

Museum staff and Washer worked throughout March 15 and 16 to build a replica of the Titanoboa snake. The display measures 48 feet in length, but that’s not the largest Titanoboa discovered.

“Our scientists were able to analyze fossils to determine what this snake was and how it looked,” Washer said. “We used fossils to envision what this snake would have looked like both inside and out.”

The largest Titanoboa snake recorded is 50 feet. These massive snakes lived in water making their prey easier to hunt and eat. The head of the snake helped anthropologists determine how the snake both captured and consumed its prey. Anthropologists were also able to determine the size of the snake by looking at its vertebra. As part of its exhibit, a 3-D model of the vertebra of the snake will be available for museum guests to hold and examine.

“These snakes would not have been able to travel around land without leaving an impact, which led us to determine they had to have eaten, hunted and even bred in water,” Washer said.

The Smithsonian Institution hosted a program on the discovery of the Titanoboa in Colombia, and then started to model it. Snakes today are no larger than 30 feet. The anaconda is the closest relative of Titanoboa.

“Scientists were invited to Colombia to dig for fossils before the area was extracted for metals,” Washer said. “They were not expecting to make such a great discovery.”

Upon the discovery of the Titanoboa, scientist were also able to dig up turtle shells the size of dining tables. Some of these shells had Titanoboa teeth marks in them, which indicated the snakes attempted to eat these turtles but were unsuccessful in doing so.

Scientists were able to determine that a steady temperature, between 84 and 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit, allowed for creatures of the Cerrejón Rainforest to grow to massive sizes. Today’s rainforest are 79 to 81.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

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