UF has monster exhibit with giant snake


People look at the life size replica of Titanaboa eating a crocodile at the Titanaboa: Monster Snake exhibit that recently opened at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in Gainesville, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 28, 2013 at 10:01 p.m.

Coiled in the exhibit room of the Natural History Museum is an enormous ancestor of modern reptiles — the Titanoboa, a 48-foot-long snake from the Paleocene era.

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People look at the life size replica of Titanaboa eating a crocodile at the Titanaboa: Monster Snake exhibit that recently opened at the Florida Museum of Natural History, in Gainesville, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun

The full-size model is a depiction of what the ancient reptilian would have looked like. Discovered in a coal mine in Colombia, the snake was believed to have lived 60 million years ago — during the era of the earliest rainforest yet discovered.

Florida Museum of Natural History's paleontologist John Bloch went to Colombia in 2004 to help dig the ancient fossils from the coal mine. The excavation found many historically significant fossils at the site.

Darcie MacMahon, exhibits director at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said many of the discoveries — including several crocodile relatives and huge turtles — were unknown to science before the finding.

MacMahon called the exhibit, which traveled from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, an important piece to have in the collection.

"The whole thing was a really huge scientific discovery and it's also the birth of the rain forest, the first tropical rainforest," MacMahon said.

Research on the project continues at the Florida Museum of Natural History and visitors can see it in action. Student paleontologists work on the fossil excavation in a plexiglass prep lab.

UF student Rachel Narducci said many visitors ask her questions as she works.

"Today I got: What's the scientific name? How many bones does it have? Are you getting a buzz off of the acetone? Just random questions like that," Narducci said.

Though she was nervous doing the task at first, Narducci said the opportunity has allowed her to see that she is interested in pursuing paleontology as a full-time profession.

"It's very intimidating. Definitely, when I first did it I was kind of scared. But you kind of just get used to it," she said.

The fossils found at the site have allowed researchers to get a sense of the climate at that time in the world's history.

"We know now, from those projections, that it was very hot," MacMahon said.

The exhibit will stay at the museum until Aug. 11, and then move to Panama. The fossils, however, will stay at the museum as research continues.

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