Jeff Kubina / Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

You think you know them from movies, but what’s fact and what’s fiction?

The green anaconda is the largest and most famous of four species of anacondas. They’re members of the boa family of non-venomous constricting snakes.

Thanks to popular media and myth-making, anacondas are somewhat misunderstood creatures. A lot of what you know might be based on pop culture rather than fact. After all, there is no shortage of movies and television shows featuring anacondas.

What they look like and where you’ll find them

Green anacondas are olive-colored and have alternating oval-shaped black spots. Its Latin name is Eunectes murinus, and it is also called the giant anaconda, sucuri, or water kamudi. They’re found in tropical South America and, sometimes, in the suburbs near you.

It is the largest snake in the world, credibly measured at over 30 feet long (and purportedly reaching up to 33 feet long).  Having said that, most anacondas max out at 16 feet. Long as that is, the anaconda is not the longest snake in the world. That honor falls to Asia’s reticulated python.

The anaconda is the world’s heaviest snake, reaching over 200 pounds. Females are larger than males, and will even consume smaller males during the mating season in April and May.

madaise / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

What’s on the menu tonight?

In the wild, anacondas rest in water and ambush caimans, capybara deer, tapirs, and peccaries that approach to drink. The snake seizes the animal by the neck, then wraps its coils around the body until the animal is killed by constriction.

Anacondas use a different technique to kill turtles, diving birds, and other smaller prey. For them, the anaconda will use just its mouth and sharp backward-pointing teeth. Anacondas have four roughly parallel rows of those backward-pointing teet in the top jaw and two more on the bottom.

On the topic of food, what about people? A snake that can subdue and swallow a 120-pound white-tailed deer whole certainly could eat a human being. In the absence of firm evidence it has actually happened, however, consider it an urban myth (or a jungle myth). All things being equal, keep the children away.

The Discovery Channel did run an episode of Eaten Alive which featured a naturalist in a snake-proof suit being swallowed whole by an anaconda. Zoologists who saw the episode are skeptical and wonder if it was legitimate. What do you think?

Where baby anacondas come from

Anacondas mate in or near water. The risk of being consumed by a larger female anaconda doesn’t deter potential mates. As many as 12 male anacondas will pursue a female.

The male who successfully pushes aside the others and mates with the female then embeds a plug into the female’s cloaca. That plug prevents any other potential mate from fertilizing the female snake.

Nine months later, 14 to 82 baby anacondas are born as live young, not eggs. At birth, those babies are over 24 inches long. Within three years, they reach nearly 10 feet long.

“A snake that can subdue and swallow a 120 pound white-tailed deer whole certainly could eat a human being. In the absence of firm evidence it has actually happened, however, consider it an urban myth (or a jungle myth).”

Green anacondas as pets

Green anacondas are sometimes kept as pets. The most appropriate candidates are captive-bred juveniles that have less likelihood of carrying parasites and foreign bacteria. Raising an anaconda from a juvenile stage also allows the creature to become well-adjusted to and content with captivity.

A terrarium measuring at least six feet long, one-third of it consisting of a water basin, is recommended. The water should be heated to between 76 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. That water needs to be mechanically and biologically filtered since anacondas have “large defecations.”

Pet anacondas are fed with mice and rat pups. Juveniles gradually increase to jumbo rats, guinea pigs, or small rabbits every couple of weeks. For everything you need to know about anaconda husbandry, check out Reptiles Magazine.

A deeper dive — Related reading from the 101:

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