Anacondas lay a legitimate claim on the title of the largest snake in the world. Reputably, measured snakes of the species Eunectes murinus, green anacondas, have been reported to be approximately 20-30 feet long, and unconfirmed reports of even longer snakes are common. It rubs shoulders with the reticulated python, which can surpass it in length but not weight. If the weight is taken into consideration, the anacondas easily trump the python, being almost twice the weight of its cousin - the reticulated python. The green anaconda is also the largest snake in the world by diameter, measuring up to 12 inches.
The IUCN Red List, which assesses and declares the extinction and degree of vulnerability to the same of all animal and plant species, has not yet assessed the population of the genus Eunectes.
The Mythical 'Giant Anaconda'
Green anacondas have attracted irrational rumors of unimaginable sizes since a very long time. Media portrayals, such as the 1997 movie Anaconda and its sequels, often show the species as an almost demonic water snake, bloodthirsty and several times longer than the maximum scientifically measured length. Even reports from scientists, such as a 19-meter anaconda supposedly shot by adventurer Percy Fawcett in 1906, lack credible measurements and are often exaggerated. The old reports cannot be verified and the few photos that do exist from that time lack scale. Reports from explorers or adventurers may be highly inflated due to the inability of the untrained individuals to correctly measure the snake or with the intention of drawing attention to the 'discovery' for monetary, or otherwise, gains. Accurately measuring a live, conscious large snake is a very difficult process, thanks in no small part to the sheer effort required to hold it in place, often requiring several able-bodied men, and due to the 'bends' or 'kinks' in the snake's body itself.
In 1948, natives of a Brazilian locality had claimed to have captured a snake measuring 131 feet, a thoroughly absurd claim by all scientific means, since they didn't have any reliable measuring equipment and the measurement was probably based on pure conjecture.
In modern times, most of the anacondas 'reliably' measured have been captured away from the denser, unexplored regions of the Amazon Rainforest. In the 'core regions' of the forest free from human interference anacondas may exceed the maximum recorded length. With human activities increasingly affecting and altering the natural habitats of animals, several animal species have adapted to counteract the situation. It is possible that the Eunectes murinus has, over generations, genetically reduced in size to suit its changing environment better. However, considering that the largest historically recorded snake, the Titanoboa, never exceeded 15 meters in the much more bountiful times of the Paleocene epoch, it is hard to fathom how a modern snake would exceed that length.
Facts You Should Know
- On an average, these anacondas grow up to 20-30 feet and weigh up to 550 lbs.
- Sexual dimorphism in this species is prominent; the females are markedly larger than the males.
Their massive size renders them cumbersome on land, but in the water, their preferred habitat, they can be surprisingly quick and agile.
- Like all snakes, anacondas are ambush predators. Their bodies are perfectly designed for their semi-aquatic habitats. Their eyes and nose are located at the tip of their faces, enabling them to remain almost entirely submerged (invisible to their prey or potential predators) while keeping their own radar on.
- While they, obviously, lack the fangs found in venomous snakes, anacondas have several sharp, inwardly curved teeth that prevent a prey from escaping, a feature shared with other boa and python species.
- When prey wanders by or bends down for a drink, the anaconda pounces and wraps its muscular body around the unfortunate animal, holding on to it with its bite. The first few coils from the strong, heavy snake are enough to keep the prey from escaping. The prey immobilizes and eventually succumbs to asphyxiation.
- An anaconda's massive size enables it to feed upon large mammals, such as tapirs and capybaras, sometimes even caimans (reptile predators of the alligator family), in addition to the staple diet of river fish and fauna.
- After a heavy meal, anacondas can go without food for several months. The larger female anacondas may also eat their male counterparts. Experts suggest that it could be because of the fact that pregnant female anacondas do not eat for seven months after they mate. Therefore, eating their partner gives them enough food supply for the gestation period.
- Due to their size, adult anacondas have virtually no predators. Juvenile anacondas, left to fend for themselves as soon as they hatch, are highly vulnerable to predation from various animals, such as crab-eating foxes, caimans, etc.
- Despite their massive size and strength, anacondas do not attack humans unless provoked.
The Native American folklore, which has been in direct contact with the anacondas for centuries, do not condemn them as dangerous, bloodthirsty creatures, but depict them as Yaqumama or Yaqurunas, which means 'mother of the water' and 'water people', respectively. They may be the perfect candidates to base horrifying man-eaters on, but the sad fact is that human activities have reduced the habitat of this magnificent creature to a great degree. Anacondas face dire consequences due to habitat destruction, and if efforts are not made to conserve this stunning specimen of the workmanship of nature, they may not "live long and prosper".