A new study appearing in the Sept. 15  journal Palaeontology, University of Florida researchers describe a new 20-foot extinct species -Acherontisuchus guajiraensis-  discovered in the same Colombian coal mine as Titanoboa, the world’s largest snake. Which is the first time scientists have found that they both in the oldest known rainforest ecosystem. Acherontisuchus guajiraensis is a 60-million-year-old ancestor of crocodiles was discovered along with Titanoboa, the world’s largest snake, and scientists say that the relative to modern crocodiles specialized in eating fish, meaning it competed with Titanoboa for food. But the giant snake could have consumed its competition, too, researchers say. Incidently, Acherontisuchus guajiraensis, is the first known land animal from the Paleocene New World tropics. “The younger individuals were definitely not safe from Titanoboa, but the biggest of these species would have been a bit much for the 42-foot snake to handle,” said lead author Alex Hastings, a graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF’s department of geological sciences.

The Titanoboa found in the mine was huge. “It’s probably an animal in the 30- to 35-foot range,” Bloch said of the new find, but size was not what he was thinking about. And the find was unusual was, “You just never find a snake skull, and we have one,” Bloch said. Snake skulls are made of several delicate bones that are not very well fused together. “When the animal dies, the skull falls apart,” Bloch explained. “The bones get lost.”

The snake skull was exactly what scientist have been hoping to find for years. “It offers a whole new set of characteristics,” Bloch said. The skull will enhance researchers’ ability to compare Titanoboa to other snakes and figure out where it sits on the evolutionary tree. It will provide further information about its size and what it ate. Even better, added Head is that, “our hypothesis is that the skull matches the skeleton. We think it’s one animal.”

“We’re facing some serious ecological changes now,” Brochu said. “A lot of them have to do with climate and if we want to understand how living things are going to respond to changes in climate, we need to understand how they responded in the past. This really is a wonderful group for that because they managed to survive some catastrophes, but they seemed not to survive others and their diversity does seem to change along with these ecological signals.”

The species is the second ancient crocodyliform found in the Cerrejon mine of northern Colombia, one of the world’s largest open-pit coal mines. The excavations were led by study co-authors Jonathan Bloch, Florida Museum associate curator of vertebrate paleontology, and paleobotanist Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

In the pantheon of predators, it’s one of the greatest discoveries since the T-Rex: a snake 48 feet long, weighing in at 2,500 pounds. Uncovered from a treasure trove of fossils in a Colombian coal mine, this serpent is revealing a lost world of giant creatures. Travel back to the period following the extinction of dinosaurs and encounter this monster predator.

“This one is related to a group that typically had these long snouts” Hastings said. “It would have had a relatively similar diet to the other (coastal) species, but surprisingly it lived in a more freshwater environment.” The genus is named for the river Acheron from Greek mythology, “the river of woe,” since the animal lived in a wide river that emptied into the Caribbean. Unlike the first crocodile relative found in the area, which had a more generalized diet, the snout of the new species was long, narrow and full of pointed teeth, showing a specialization for hunting the lungfish and relatives of bonefish that inhabited the water. “The general common wisdom was that ancestrally all crocodyliforms looked like a modern alligator, that all of these strange forms descended from a more generalized ancestor, but these guys are showing that sometimes one kind of specialized animal evolved from a very different specialized animal, not a generalized one,” Brochu said. “It’s really showing us a level of complexity to the history that 10 years ago was not anticipated.”

During the Paleocene in South America, the environment was dominated by reptiles, including giant snakes, turtles and crocodiles. The dyrosaurid family originated in Africa about 75 million years ago, toward the end of the age of dinosaurs, and arrived in South America by swimming across the Atlantic Ocean.

“The same thing that snuffed out the dinosaurs killed off most of the crocodiles alive at the time,” Hastings said. “The dyrosaurids are one of the few groups to survive the extinction and later become more successful.”

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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Florida. The original item was written by Danielle Torrent. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.