(Named after the serpent of the Dreamtime).
Named By: Smith - 1976.
Classification: Chordata, Reptilia, Squamata, Serpentes, Madtsoiidae.
Species: W. naracoortensis (type), W. barriei.
Size: 5 to 6 meters long.
Known locations: Australia.
Time period: Pleistocene.
Fossil representation: Disarticulated fragments.
five to six meters long, Wonambi would have been
able to tackle any
small to medium sized animal it chose. The Aboriginal people living
in Australia at the same time as Wonambi were
certainly aware of the
presence of large snakes
and indeed warned their children about going
to watering holes alone. This was a very sensible precaution as
Wonambi's hunting method seems to have been to
frequent watering holes
where it knew that it was only a matter of time before its prey came to
Wonambi was a constrictor which means that it did not use venom but instead wrapped itself around its prey and tightened its grip so that its prey could not breathe in. Another theory however is that the pressure of the snake squeezing the chest actually causes cardiac arrest (where the heart stops beating). No matter how exactly the prey dies, death still comes quickly and as anyone who's ever been on the wrong side of a large python will tell you, there is not a lot you can do to stop its grip.
Once Wonambi was sure its prey was dead it would them clamp its jaws over its prey, probably head first, and then start sliding its prey down its throat. Reconstructions of Wonambi reveal it to have sharp recurved teeth that when bitten into prey would stop the animal from sliding out of Wonambi's mouth. This way Wonambi could slowly slide itself over its victim like an anaconda does today.
Despite its killing efficiency Wonambi probably could not tackle larger animals due to the small size of its skull. In addition to this the jaw is also not thought to have been capable of being fully disarticulated like in some snakes that we see today. These restrictions meant that even the larger examples of Wonambi would have had to choose their prey carefully.
Wonambi was just one member of the Madtsoiidae group of prehistoric snakes, some of which such as Madtsoia seem to have grown to truly giant sizes. Another Australian snake of this group is Yurlunggur.
- Small fossil vertebrates from Victoria Cave, Naracoorte, South Australia IV. Reptiles. Transacations of the Royal Society of South Australia 100(1):39-51. - M. J. Smith - 1976.
- The Pleistocene serpent Wonambi and the early evolution of snakes. - Nature 403, 416-420. - John D. Scanlon & Michael S. Y. Lee - 2000.
- Cranial morphology of the Plio-Pleistocene giant madstoiid snake Wonambi naracoortensis - Acta Palaeontologica 50(1), p 139-180. - John D. Scanlon - 2005.