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The Burke Museum's 'Titanoboa' harmonizes paleontology with good, plain snake fun

The Smithsonian traveling exhibition “Titanoboa: Monster Snake” features a full-scale model and will travel to museums across the country on a 15-city tour.

Photo: James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Institution


The Burke Museum’s brand-new Titanoboa exhibition fuses lessons on herpetology, paleontological context, and ridiculously cool videos and sculptures of giant snakes. In short, Titanoboa is as engaging for kids as it is for adults.

The exhibit, which opened on August 22, is hosted at the Burke by way of the Smithsonian Institute; the Burke Museum has been on the waiting list to display the exhibit for three or four years, thanks to the exhibit’s immense popularity among museums in the US.

The exhibit centers on Titanoboa itself, the largest prehistoric snake ever found. The sheer uniqueness of the snake is hammered home by the spectacular size of the super-lifelike snake sculpture that is the centerpiece of the exhibit. The sculpture’s wow factor: A half-eaten crocodile poking out of the boa’s mouth.

The exhibit also includes interesting information on contemporary research that graduate students at the University of Washington are currently doing with reptiles; one display in particular is downright endearing, with cards that anyone can write on to ask a UW grad student and snake researcher questions about snakes, his work, and reptiles in general. One gem in particular: “What do snakes smell like?”

The exhibit presents the scientific background on Titanoboa with clarity; various videos are set up around the exhibit that detail how researchers discovered the ancient snake (a single vertebra unearthed in Chile!) as well as how they calculated the snake’s estimated size (inventive mathematical modeling). The exhibit’s videos are also closed captioned, a small but inclusive decision that makes the exhibit much more accessible for hearing-impaired folks.

The Titanoboa exhibit is best suited for kids 10 and up who can appreciate the finer points of the science presented in the exhibit’s videos, which provide the bulk of its informative elements. Titanoboa runs from August 22 to November 15 of this year. 17th Ave NE and NE 45th Street, Seattle, 98105

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