Learn more about vertebrate paleontology (fossil bones), invertebrate paleontology (fossil animals lacking bones), paleobotany (fossil plants), and palynology (fossil pollen) with our Florida Museum scientists. Our extensive collections focus on the Cenozoic Era (last 65 million years) in Florida, the Southeast US, and some Caribbean region.

Latest Paleontology News at the Florida Museum

Research Highlights

Titanoboa

Titanoboa vertebrae
Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist Jonathan Bloch shows the size difference between vertebrae belonging to Titanoboa cerrejonensis and a modern-day anaconda.

Florida Museum scientists and students played a critical role in the discovery of the largest snake the world has ever known–as long as a school bus and as heavy as a small car–-which ruled tropical ecosystems only 6 million years after the demise of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus rex.

Partial skeletons of the giant, boa constrictor-like snake, named Titanoboa cerrejonensis, were found in Colombia by an international team of scientists including Florida Museum vertebrate paleontologist Jonathan Bloch and are now housed at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Based on the diameter of the fossilized vertebrae, the snake is estimated to be 42 to 45 feet long.  Besides tipping the scales at an estimated 1.25 tons, the snake lived during the Paleocene Epoch, a 10-million-year period immediately following the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

During the expedition, the scientists found many skeletons of giant turtles and extinct primitive crocodile relatives that likely were eaten by the snake. The snake’s gigantic dimensions are a sign that temperatures along the equator were once much hotter.  Based on the snake’s size, the team was able to calculate the mean annual temperature at equatorial South America 60 million years ago was about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, about 10 degrees warmer than today.

The discovery of Titanoboa resulted in a collaboration between the Florida Museum, Smithsonian Institution and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and University of Nebraska to create a feature-length documentary film, Titanoboa: Monster Snake which premiered on the Smithsonian Channel April 1, 2012.  An exhibit of the same title opened at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. on March 30 and will travel to other national and international venues.

Panama Canal Project – PIRE

The Panama Canal is currently being expanded on a scale not seen since the original excavations one hundred years ago. During this current expansion, important new Neogene fossiliferous deposits are being uncovered. The mission of the PCP PIRE is toadvance knowledge of the extinct faunas and floras of the ancient Neotropics based on the new fossil discoveries along the Canal. Consistent with NSF’s PIRE program objectives, university students (undergraduate and graduate), postdocs, and faculty are engaging in PCP paleontological, geological, and biological research and Broader Impacts outreach. The ultimate outcome of the PCP PIRE will be to promote discovery and advance knowledge while training the next generation of scientists better able to engage in international experiences.

Vertebrate Evolution

Recent research at the Florida Museum sheds new light on the origins of primates. Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Jonathan Bloch led a team of scientists in discovering two 56-million-year-old fossils in Wyoming, the most primitive primate skeletons ever described. After exhaustive study of the fossils, Bloch and his colleagues presented strong evidence that this archaic group of mammals called plesiadapiforms may be more closely related to modern primates than to any other mammal group, and the ancestors of modern primates. This research extends the primate family tree 10 million years back in time. By researching the earliest stages of primate evolution, Bloch and his colleagues can more effectively trace the multitude of anatomical changes that have taken place in the numerous lineages of primates.