The green anaconda is a HUGE snake living in the Amazon rain-forest. Anacondas are semi-aquatic, meaning they spend part of the time in the water and part on land. This snake’s eyes and nostrils are positioned on the top of its head so it can see and breath even when the rest of its body is under water. This animal’s coloring makes it perfect for camouflage. The dark olive green makes it almost invisible in the muddy Amazon. The green anaconda also has black oval-shaped spots all along its body. This may help camouflage the snake in the shadows. Besides the green anaconda, there are three other species of anacondas – the yellow anaconda, the dark-spotted anaconda, and the Bolivian anaconda.
The word “anaconda” is derived from an Indian word “anaikolra,” meaning “elephant killer.” The green anaconda’s scientific name, eunectes murinus, means “good swimmer” in Latin. In the early 1900s, United States President Theodore Roosevelt offered a reward of $5,000 to anyone who captured a green anaconda and transported it to the New York Zoological Society (now known as the Wildlife Conservation Society). This reward has now been withdrawn.
Anacondas prefer to live near water, more specifically shallow, slow-moving bodies of fresh water. They like tropical savannas, rain-forests, and grasslands to surround these water bodies. Thick vegetation is good green anaconda habitat, and they can even climb trees.
The green anaconda is one of the world’s longest snakes, second only to the reticulated python, and some green anacondas can be bigger that the other snake mentioned. The green anaconda, however, is much heavier than the reticulated python due to the anaconda’s large girth. Green anacondas can be up to twelve inches (30 cm) in diameter! Adult green anacondas can grow up to thirty feet (9 m) in length, although they are normally smaller. These animals can also weigh up to 550 pounds (227 kg). There is a lot of controversy about the maximum size of green anacondas. Some unconfirmed sightings report that these animals can grow up to 39 feet (12 m) or more!
Females are much larger than males, and while the average size of a female is about 19.7 ft (6 m), males normally grow up to only 9.8 feet (3 m)
Diet and hunting
In order to attain such a large size, green anacondas must eat a lot of food. Common food includes wild pigs, deer, birds, turtles, capybaras, caimans, and jaguars. Camouflage is used during hunting when the anaconda ambushes its prey and then coils its muscular body around the struggling victim. Since anacondas do not have venom, they kill their prey in one of two ways. They can either constrict it so the animal cannot breathe, or they will drag their prey underwater, drowning it. If prey is large enough, the anaconda may be able to go without food for several months!
Anacondas cannot chew, and therefore they will swallow their prey whole. Since some prey is a lot larger than the anaconda’s head, it must have some way of fitting its prey through its mouth. The green anaconda has elastic ligaments in its mouth that allow the snake to stretch its jaws wide enough to swallow its prey. The process of swallowing animals can take a long time, and the dead prey can block the breathing passage, in order to still be able to breathe while eating, the green anaconda will stick out a long, tongue-like appendage that connects to the lungs and lets air through it.
Status and threats
The IUCN has not yet ranked the green anaconda for how common it is. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has rated the green anaconda. The CITES rating system is different than the IUCN rating system. CITES is divided into three appendixes. Appendix III is comparable to “least “concern” on IUCN, Appendix II compares to “near threatened” and “vulnerable”, and Appendix I relates to “endangered” and “critically endangered.” CITES ranks the green anaconda in Appendix II.
One of the main threats to green anacondas is hunting, both legal and illegal. Many locals often kill anacondas under the belief that they are protecting their livestock and other people. While this may be true, many of these snakes are killed in remote areas far from where any humans live. Sometimes they are illegally killed,and their skin is used for leather or decorations. The illegal pet trade also harms the population of green anacondas. Habitat loss and deforestation threaten these snakes as well, and even in places where there are habitat protection laws, lack of enforcement renders these laws almost useless.
In habitats where the ground is flooded seasonally, green anacondas mate during the dry season. This is from around mid-February to late May. Males use scent to find females, and since there are many more males than females, each female attracts multiple males. This leads to a phenomena known as a breeding ball in which the larger female is surrounded by smaller males. The males try to push their way to the center of the ball so they can mate with the female. This ball can last for up to four months during which several males can mate with each female.
After mating, the hungry female (remember she has been in the center of a ball for a few months and unable to eat) may eat one or more of the males! This practice helps the female survive her seven month pregnancy during which she will not eat. Females give birth to normally 20 to 40 young, although as many as 82 young have been reported in one litter. Green anacondas give birth to live young, and the young snakes are about two feet (60 cm) long at birth.
In about six years, the young green anacondas are ready to mate for the first time. From when they are born to when they reach their maximum size, green anacondas can undergo a 500 times increase in their body mass! This is the largest such growth of any snake! If humans grew like this, an “average” baby (7.5 pounds or 3.4 kg) would weigh 3,750 pounds (1700 kg) as an adult! In the wild green anacondas can live up to ten years, while in captivity this time can be extended to twenty-five years.
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- Smithsonian Handbooks Reptiles and Amphibians. Mark O’Shea and Tim Halliday, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6009-3
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- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide. David Burnie and Don E. Wilson, Smithsonian Institution, ISBN: 978-0-7566-6002-4
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