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Gigantophis

The Gigantophis (scientific name: Gigantophis garstini) was an incredibly enormous snake that lived during the Late Eocene Era. The species has been classified as a member of the ‘madtsoiidae’ family that includes other prehistoric snakes including the smaller Madtsoia and Wonambi.

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Scientific Classification

Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Reptilia
Order Squamata
Suborder Serpentes
Family †Madtsoiidae
Genus Gigantophis
Species G. garstini

Quick Facts

Pronunciation jih-GAN-toe-fiss
Geological Period Late Eocene (40-35 million years ago)
Size About 33 feet long
Weight Half a ton
Average Lifespan Unknown
Location/Distribution & Habitat Woodlands of northern Africa to the southern parts of Sahara where Egypt and Algeria are presently located, as well as in southern Asia
Climate/Environment Warm, tropical
Diet Carnivorous
Birth Type (Reproduction) Oviparous
Locomotion Gliding

History and Discovery

Very little is known about this ancient snake species since almost the entire information about this creature came solely from only a small number of fossils, mostly vertebrae.

It was back in 1901 that Charles W. Andrews, a British paleontologist, first published the discovery of this enormous snake, and described the Gigantophis from the fossils and skeletal remains that was unearthed in eastern Egypt’s Al Fayum region.

For estimating the size of the Gigantophis, Jason Head, a scientist from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, took to a comparative study between the fossil vertebrae and a few of the modern-day snakes considered the largest. Later, Head estimated that the length of the creature was about 30 to 35 feet.

The remains of this huge snake was found along with other contemporary aquatic marine vertebrates, including other species of large marine snakes, crocodilians, sirens, marine turtles, and even whales.

In 1961, Robert Hoffstetter, yet another paleontologist discovered more remains of the giant snake in Libya’s Dor-et-Talha. This region was located around 1500 km west of the area where the first specimens of the Gigantophis was excavated.

​​New Gigantophis fossils that were found in suggest that the broad distribution of the species extends from

Decades after, in 2014, fresh fossils were also discovered from Pakistan that threw light on the fact that these snakes were distributed not only throughout Africa or the Middle East but also extended into the Indian subcontinent.

Physical Description

The Gigantophis had an extraordinarily large size and had capacious jaws. According to Jason Head (mentioned above), this reptile might have grown up to 9.3 to 10.7 m (30.5 to 35.1 ft) in length. If this information is true, then this extinct snake was longer than 10% compared to its largest living relatives of the modern day.

Later, based on allometric equations from the articular processes of tail vertebrae, a group of scientists further scaled and revised the length of Gigantophis. According to them, it was 6.9 ± 0.3 meters (22.64 ± 0.98 ft).

Behavior & Diet

The Gigantophis was hypercarnivorous, and it may have led an amphibious lifestyle. Being a very powerful constrictor, like modern-day boas and pythons, it was able to squeeze the life out of its victim.

These snakes perhaps preyed on basal proboscideans – the ancestors of modern-day elephants with the size of pigs, as also, ancient crocodilians including large crocodiles and various other large reptiles.

These snakes were probably aquatic snakes that would hide under water, silently waiting for prey to strike. It was a constrictor.

Despite being a constrictor species, this snake has no genetic connection to boas or pythons. It was a member of Madtsoiidae, a genus that is now completely extinct.

Interesting Facts

  • The Gigantophis snake gets its name from the ancient Greek words gígantas (meaning giant), and óphis (meaning snake).
  • Gigantophis was the biggest known snake on earth until the discovery of an even bigger serpent – the 50-feet-long Titanoboa.

Published on February 27th 2019 by under Reptiles.
Article was last reviewed on 13th September 2019.

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