Giant Sea Snakes of the Georgia Eocene

The entire coastal plain of southeastern North America and all of Florida were below sea level until about 32 million years ago. Strong currents carried sediment into shallow coastal waters, and some sediments eventually became kaolin clay, now mined in Wilkinson County, Georgia. The clay preserves fossils of the Eocene Age including shark’s teeth, sawfish and ray bones, and the remains of primitive whales. Miners excavating clay also find vertebrae from an enormous extinct sea snake given the scientific name, Palaeophis virginianus. Scientists compared the vertebrae of Palaeophis with modern species of snakes and estimated this extinct species reached a length of at least 17 feet long.

Artist’s rendition of an extinct giant sea snake (Palaeophis).. Image from the Prehistoric Animals Twitter Page..
Fossil vertebrae of an extinct giant sea snake. Image from an anonymous post on the Fossil Forum.

Palaeophis was not closely related to modern day sea snakes. Scientists don’t know much about it, but they think it was an ambush predator, like a modern day anaconda, that preyed on other animals in shallow coastal waters. There was more than 1 species of Palaeophis sea snakes alive during the Eocene (55 million years BP-33 Million years BP), and they had a worldwide distribution, but today they are extinct and they left no descendants. Palaeophis fossils found in south Georgia are thought to date to ~34 million years ago, close to the end of the Eocene.

Reference:

Calvert, C; A. Mead, and D. Parmley

“Size Estimate of Extinct Aquatic Snakes from the Eocene of Central Georgia”

Georgia Journal of Science 79 (1) Article 22 2021

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