Anaconda

 

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Range: South America, North and East Central.

Habitat: Always found near water, swamp environments.  The flooded Pantanal region of Venezuela is classic Anaconda habitat.

Natural Diet: Mammals, birds, fish and small crocodilians.

Diet at RainForest: Pre-killed rodents

Size: Females 12-18 feet, Males 6-11 feet

RainForest Facts: The heaviest of all living snakes, the female Green anaconda can reach lengths of 20 feet and weights of over 300 pounds. 

There are at least three recognized species of anaconda: the green, yellow, and dark spotted.

Male Anacondas are considerably smaller than females, a large male may only be 8-10 feet in length and is a considerably thinner bodied animal.  A highly aquatic snake, the Anaconda is much more likely to be encountered in the wild in, or near, a body of freshwater.   The name Anaconda literally translates to "Water Boa"  Many storied tales of giants exceeding 40 and even 50 feet are told both in print and verbally passed down to local villagers in the far reaches of the Amazon basin.  The reality is that while this species is still recognized to be the heaviest bodied of all living snakes the presumed champion in the longest snake department goes to the Reticulated Python.

The Anaconda is considered by many to be an aggressive animal in captivity.  Anacondas have a very large number of sharp, rear-facing teeth, as is often the case with snakes in the boa family these teeth are used to grab and hang onto prey such as fish and birds that may have many feathers to penetrate through. 

A long lived animal in captivity, the Anaconda may live as long as thirty years.  In the wild predators of even large females undoubtedly shorten the average life span.  Large Black Caiman, a crocodile relative that can reach 19 feet in length, have been observed killing and eating females of up to 15 feet in length. 

Anacondas mate in an unusual fashion.  Several males are attracted to an ovulating female resulting in a "mating ball" that can often obscure the female from view.  The mating always takes place in water.  After a gestation of six months the females give birth to live babies in the late spring to early summer, birth generally coincides with the wet season in the animals native range. 

A large female is capable of producing up to 80 babies in a single clutch, on average the female Anaconda will have 20-30 young. 

Predators account for a high loss of  juvenile Anacondas, Tegu lizards, birds of prey and crocodilians all consume young snakes.  

Wading birds in particular have a high impact on the loss of baby anacondas.  This natural balance helps ensure a population of adult snakes that does not out strip the available large prey items.

Although it is fairly common for females to be older, a female Anacondas can reproduce as early as 4 years of age. 

One recognized subspecies of Anaconda lives in the southern end of the Green Anacondas range, the Yellow Anaconda.  The Yellow Anaconda is a smaller, and more brightly colored snake.  A large Yellow Anaconda may only attain a length of  8 feet compared to well over 15 feet for a large Green Anaconda.   Like the Green Anaconda, the Yellow Anaconda gives birth to live babies.  The litters are slightly smaller in average number than the Green Anaconda, 10-20 is an average number of babies born to a healthy female Yellow Anaconda. 

All Pythons are constrictors.  Snakes that hunt using constriction as a means of subduing prey will very quickly grab their prey with their teeth using a very fast strike. The constrictor will quickly wrap coils of their bodies around the prey and squeeze or constrict the prey item.  This process does not actually crush the prey and break its bones as is widely reported in the media.  Instead, they squeeze tightly so that the prey animal canít breath and it suffocates, this process usually requires about 3-4 minutes for the prey animal to be killed.

Once the snake is certain the prey item is dead they then begin to search for the animals head, virtually all prey animals are consumed head first.  This process allows the snake to literally "fold" the arms and legs of the prey animal back as the creature is swallowed.  Contrary to popular belief a snake does not "unhinge" it's jaws, the jaws in fact are not actually attached in a mechanical way.  Long tendons and muscles connect the upper and lower jaws.  The lower jaw is actually made up of two separate bones to further enhance the animals ability to manipulate large prey items.

Once the snake has the animal past it's jaws a series rhythmic muscular contractions then pull the prey down the snakeís throat and into its stomach.   A very large prey item can be observed in the snakes stomach as a large bulge.  Contrary to popular belief the large prey item is not digested by slowing moving down the length of the snake.  Once the prey animal reaches the stomach, usually about 20 minutes for a very large item, the food item is stationary in the snakes stomach as it is gradually digested.    The size of the meal can have an impact on the duration of the digestion, but external factors such as ambient air temperature play a larger roll.  The snake must be careful not to eat when temperatures are too cool, the meal will quite literally decompose faster than the snake can digest it, causing a gaseous bloating in the snake that can result in death.  Ideal air temperatures allow the snake to digest the meal prior to the food item decomposing!  Snakes often will regurgitate a meal when the conditions do not allow it to properly digest the meal, this can include both temperatures that are too high and too low!

 

Status in Wild: Declining primarily due to over collection for the skin trade as well as loss of habitat.