APR 22, 2024 3:24 PM PDT

Vasuki: An Ancient Snake that was Longer Than a Bus

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Researchers have reported the discovery of fossils from a massive, ancient snake that could have been bigger than a bus. Fossils and fossil comparisons have revealed the characteristics of this huge creature, which is estimated to have weighed as much as 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) and been from 36 feet (11 meters) to 50 feet (15 meters) long. The investigators compared the fossils of this snake to 20 samples of fossil vertebrae from current snakes to estimate its size.

An excerpt from Datta & Bajpai, Scientific Reports 2024 showing anterior trunk vertebrae of Vasuki indicus / Credit: Datta, Bajpai Scientific Reports 2024

The findings have been published in Scientific Reports. This ancient snake has been named Vasuki indicus for "the mythical snake king Vasuki, who wraps around the neck of the Hindu deity Shiva," explained study co-author Debajit Datta, of the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.

To put Vasuki's size in perspective, some of the longest snakes that can now be found on Earth are the reticulated python, which commonly reach lengths of about 20 feet (6 meters) long and live in Asia, and the king cobra, which can be over 18 feet (5.6 m) long and is also native to Asia.

Vasuki lived about 47 million years ago in western India, which was full of swampy, tropical forests at the time. The researchers are not sure exactly how this snake moved around, or what it ate. But because of its huge size and lack of appendages, it is unlikely to have been a forager, and was probably a slow-moving ambush predator that would use constriction to take down its prey, the study suggested. This would make its movement and behavior somewhat comparable to modern snakes like anacondas or large pythons.

Fossils records also showed that animals like catfish, crocodiles, turtles, and ancient whales also lived in the area at the time. It seems likely that these animals were Vasuki's prey, added Datta.

Another giant snake that lived long ago in what is now Colombia was found several years ago. This snake is known as Titanoboa, and probably lived about 60 million years ago. Both of these massive snakes lived during a time when the planet was exceptionally warm.

Portions of Vasuki's backbone were found in Western India in 2005 by study co-author Sunil Bajpai, also of the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee.

Sources: Phys.org via The Associated Press, Scientific Reports

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