Giant Eocene sea snake from Carmel Church

While I was out of town volunteer Ward Littlefield began preparation of a small Carmel Church jacket that we collected several years ago. The jacket mostly contained rather run-of-the-mill shark teeth and whale bones, but there was one unusual specimen that turned up.

The bone on the right is a large snake vertebra, seen here in posterior view. On the left is a vertebra from roughly the same position in the vertebral column from a modern 3 meter long boa for comparison; the Carmel Church vertebra certainly seems to represent a much larger snake! Here are the same bones in lateral view:

I’m pretty sure this vertebra is from the giant sea snake Paleophis virginianus. Paleophis is a Paleogene taxon, that has previously been reported from the Paleocene Aquia Formation and the Eocene Nanjemoy Formation. While this specimen was found in Miocene Calvert Formation, at Carmel Church the Nanjemoy lies directly under the Calvert, and we’ve had numerous instances of Eocene fossils that were reworked into the Miocene with relatively little damage. That’s most likely what happened in this case. Even so, it’s a nice find, as it’s only the second specimen of Paleophis in our collection (the other is also a reworked Carmel Church specimen).

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5 Responses to Giant Eocene sea snake from Carmel Church

  1. Bobby says:

    I have to admit I thought with the post title this was an early april fools post – and then I realized that Palaeophis was real, and that’s absolutely terrifying and awesome. That’s a big snake…

  2. altondooley says:

    Come on, I wouldn’t do an April Fool’s joke about snakes!

    Oh, wait, I guess I would…

    But Paleophis is real.

  3. accpaleo says:

    That vertebrae looks twice as big. So are we talking about an 18 foot snake?

  4. altondooley says:

    My guess is that is would be something like that. There’s a lot of uncertainty, though. I don’t know how the body shape or vertebral count of Paleophis compares to Boa. Also, I don’t know exactly which vertebral position this vertebra represents. I think I’m pretty close, assuming I have the homologies correct, but I could easily be off by several vertebral positions, which would affect the length estimate.

    Given all the uncertainty, I think 4-7 meters is probably a safe guess.

  5. George F says:


    Such a neat find.

    Great work

    George Fonger

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