Fossils of colossal prehistoric snake named Vasuki unearthed in India

By Pratap Chakravarty - RFI
Science  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
© Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

India has unveiled the world's largest prehistoric snake that was longer than a large school bus and roamed the planet 60 million years ago.

Palaeontologists found 27 fossil vertebrae of Vasuki indicus in a coalmine in the western state of Gujarat and used the well-preserved pieces to calculate the length of the colossus creature to be between 10.9 and 15.2 metres (49.86 feet).

Palaeontologist Sunil Bajpai conceded the astonishing discovery in 2005 from Kutch district's Panandhro mines remained ignored until 2023 when he opened an investigation into the fossilised vertebrae, each larger than a balled fist of a fully grown man.

“We were distracted by other projects and so this got ignored but last July, I and [associate] Debajit Dutta  started the research study and finished it after six months of hard work,” Bajpai toldANI news service, surrounded by blackened pieces of the snake's spine.

Super Serpent

Despite its size, the longest snake that ever existed would have looked like a large python and would not have been venomous said Bajpai from the department of earth sciences of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT).

The 42.6-foot long Titanoboa that lived in Colombia before it went into extinction 60 million years ago has, to date, been the closest to India'sVasuki.

Vasuki lived in the coastal marshland at a time when global temperatures were higher than today, added Debajit Datta, co-researcher and lead author of a study he published last week.

Researcher Dutta said Vasuki's progeny travelled to Africa after the South Asian subcontinent collided with Asia some 50 million years ago and created a “bridge” between the two land masses.

The slow-moving snake weighing a ton killed its pray by constriction was more powerful than the T-Rex dinosaur, which measured 43 feet in length and existed between 72 to 66 million years ago as Earth's undisputed carnivore king.

Snake World

The IIT scientists said their find opened a rare window into the priceless world of herpetology.

“This makes it clear the history of snakes in India is millions of years old and fossils found here must now be studied with care to track the evolution of reptiles,” the IIT professor said.

But he warned it would be an arduous task as snakes inhabited the most unlikely of places in India.

“It is important to carry on with the mission,” Dutta said, adding that Vasuki went extinct 15,000 years ago but left its genes in other limbless reptiles of modern times.

“The Anaconda or the Python are distant cousins of the Vasuki and although they are smaller in size, their examination may tell us how Vasuki lived,” he said.

Sacred Vasuki

A group of sacred testaments scripted between the fourth century BCE to the 11th century CE refer to Vasuki as the king of snakes that coil around the neck of Lord Shiva as a bracelet.

Vasuki again finds mention in a celestial event where demons and the gods use the giant serpent as a truss to churn the oceans for the elixir of life.

Vasuki is a brother to mythological sister Manasa, a benevolent serpent worshipped as mother in Hinduism.

Scriptures called the Puranas describe Vasuki as a cobra, a common specimen blamed for large scale attacks in India.

India accounts for almost half of all global deaths due to snakebites, according to the policy-making Indian Council of Medical Research.

Only 30 percent of victims seek medical help in India where venomous attacks claim over 46,000 lives every year.