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The anaconda is the biggest snake in the world, even larger than the Old World python. Yet despite its size and strength, it has few defenses against humans – its main enemy. A larger version of the boa constrictor, the anaconda is a massive snake that kills its prey by squeezing it to death in its powerful coils. It then swallows its victim whole. Although it has an appetite for prey as large as wild pigs and deer, the huge anaconda is capable of surviving for months and even years without food.
Habitat: The abundant streams, rivers, swamps, and pools of the tropical rainforests of Amazonia provide an ideal habitat for the anaconda. This heavy snake is more at home in the water than on land, and it swims with grace and agility. It can stay submerged for over 10 minutes at a time and often lies beneath the surface waiting for prey. The anaconda lets itself be carried downstream on the river’s current with only its head breaking the surface. Then it drifts to the bank and glides away into the thick undergrowth. The anaconda usually hunts at night. It spends the day lying in the shallows or basking in the sun, draped over the branches of a tree at the water’s edge. Like most snakes, it can climb well and it uses trees for refuge from predators. Only the most powerful predator, however, can subdue a full grown anaconda.
Food and Hunting: The anaconda preys on deer, wild pigs, and large rodents such as the agouti, paca, and capybara. It also attacks aquatic animals like the caiman, a relative of the alligator. The anaconda lies in a murky pool to ambush animals coming to drink. It seizes its prey quickly with its sharp teeth and drags it into the water. The victim often drowns before it is killed. Like all boas, the anaconda kills by constriction, coiling itself around the prey and squeezing. The snake squeezes tighter each time the animal breathes out so it cannot breathe in again. It quickly dies from suffocation. The anaconda swallows its victim whole. It can stretch its mouth around prey twice the width of its head because its jawbones are loosely attached to its skull and to each other. After a large meal, the anaconda sleeps for several days as it digests and may not feed again for weeks.
Breeding: The anaconda is normally solitary with its own fixed hunting area. But at the onset of the rainy season each female in breeding condition gives off a scent known as a pheromone, which is picked up by a nearby male. He makes his way toward the female, with his forked tongue flicking as he follows the scent trail. During courtship the male presses his body to the female’s. With his tongue still flicking, he works his way up until his head is resting on her neck. He then erects his spurs, a pair of tiny hind limbs whose use in mating is unique to boas and pythons. The male uses them to tickle the female’s vent region, encouraging her to mate. Most snakes lay eggs, but the anaconda gives birth to live young. The female usually produces 20 to 40 young, each about two feet long. Within hours of birth young snakes can swim, hunt, and care for themselves. They feed mainly on frogs and fish until they are big enough to tackle larger prey.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, and
Length: Usually up to 16 ft., but snakes over 33 ft. long recorded
Weight: Up to 550 lb., possibly more
Sexual maturity: 3-4 years
Mating: Tropical rainy season
No. of young: 20-40, occasionally up to 60. Born live
Habit: Solitary, but can form small groups. Active at night
Diet: Large rodents, wild pigs, deer, birds, fish, and aquatic reptiles
Related Species: There are at least two
species of anaconda: the green anaconda, Eunectes murinus, and the yellow
anaconda, E. notaeus. Both belong to the boa family, which includes the
Distribution: The green anaconda is found throughout the basins of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers in tropical South America. The yellow anaconda ranges as far south as Argentina.
Conservation: The anaconda is threatened by deforestation of its habitat and hunting for its skin. It seldom lives long enough to reach the record sizes reported in the past.
Features of the Anaconda:
Camouflage: Black patches on the anaconda’s back combine with dull background color to blend in with the thick, wet vegetation of its habitat.
Nostrils: Like the crocodile, the anaconda’s nostrils are on top of its snout so it can breathe easily while it is swimming.
Length: The yellow anaconda grows to a maximum of 16 feet. The green anaconda can reach 33 feet and possibly more.
Weight: The heaviest of all snakes, the anaconda is more comfortable swimming than dragging its bulk on land.
Waiting for Prey: The anaconda lies coiled in the shallows of a forest stream or pool and waits for prey such as a large rodent to come and drink. It occasionally preys on jaguars but never attacks humans, even from the water. If the anaconda senses the presence of humans, it quietly glides away.
Did You Know:
The anaconda has been known to attack jaguars, and a 26 foot anaconda was reported to have killed a six and a half foot caiman.
When kept out of the water, an anaconda’s body becomes infested with ticks.
The heaviest of snakes, a 20 foot anaconda weighs more than a 33 foot python.
There have been reports of 130 foot anacondas, but they have not been proven.