The Mystery and Science of Giant Pythons
by Jordan Banks, age 13
When people think of Pythons, they think of Florida and the everglades, or even Africa or Asia. Pythons are not found in Europe. At least not today. But research shows these huge snakes did roam the continent more than 20 million years ago.
New research shows Pythons come from a different part of the world than what was previously expected. Specifically, Pythons came from the supercontinent Laurasia, which was made up of North America, Europe and Asia rather than South America. This was shocking news for scientists, given that Pythons aren't currently found in Europe.
Dr. Hussman Zahur, with the help of fellow paleontologist Krister T. Smith, found a specimen that measured over 38 inches long at the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe, Germany. The fossil specimen came from Germany, from a location called the Messel Pit.
Dr. Zahur was led to the discovery of this unnamed snake species by an old German manuscript. When examining the 52-page document, Zahur found a drawing of a snake skull from an unidentified species. Although Dr. Zahur studied ancient snakes, the skull he found didn't have many of the modern characteristics of a python
Researchers eventually found four different skulls that were similar to the one that was drawn in the manuscript. They examined the skulls using CT scans, microscopes and measurements of the bones along with many other tools. Dr. Zahur found 785 characteristics of the skulls and was able to assemble a snake family tree. The scientists found that the skeletons from the Messel Pit belonged to pythons that died out during the Eocene period.
Scientists used to believe that all giant snakes originated in Gondwana, which was an ancient supercontinent consisting of modern-day South America, India, Australia, Africa and Antarctica. With this new information researchers now believe that pythons came from Laurasia.
With this discovery, modern science now has a better understanding of the origins of pythons. Experts warn, however, new information about giant snake species may come out. For now, the current understanding is that pythons come from Laurasia, the northern part of the world. This shows that we should never assume where things come from.
[Sources: The New York Times; livescience.com]