At up to 30 feet long and weighing 550 pounds, the world’s biggest snake isn’t exactly something you’d want to encounter unawares. You may wonder, are anacondas dangerous? And just how much of a threat are anacondas to humans?
Anacondas are extremely dangerous. These enormous snakes hunt almost all other animals in the jungle, even jaguars, by constricting them. Anacondas are capable of swallowing an adult human whole. However, because humans rarely enter the anaconda’s natural habitat, such attacks are very rare.
Anacondas attacking humans is rare, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. However reassuring that fact may be, it is important to know how dangerous anacondas are to humans should you even come into contact with one.
This being said we need to do what we can to protect anacondas. I am not saying they are a danger to people in general. Instead, anacondas, like many wild animals should be respected are big enough and strong enough to harm humans.
The Size Of Anacondas Makes Them Dangerous To Humans
Green Anacondas, the most widely recognized of the four known anaconda species, are the biggest snakes in the world. A fully grown female anaconda can be up to 30 feet long—for reference, that’s about the length of a school bus.
While some python breeds can easily match this staggering length, the anaconda trumps them all in weight. At 550 pounds and 12 inches thick in diameter, the Green Anaconda is a living coil of solid muscle.
Male anacondas are much smaller than their female counterparts, averaging around 12 to 15 feet long. This is because about 30% of female anacondas’ body weight is used for reproduction, a mother needs to be significantly larger in order to sustain both herself and her young.
Anacondas do not lay eggs. Instead, they produce eggs within their bodies, hatch them from inside, and give birth to live young.
While she is expecting, a mother anaconda will not eat anything, so she will typically eat something very large right around the time of conception. Conveniently, this meal is sometimes the father of her children, who happens to be around when she is the most hungry and no longer in need of him.
Pregnancy then takes about seven months and nearly drains the mother of all her energy, which is why it is important for her to be large enough to swallow large animals so she can get as many nutrients as she needs.
4 Types Of Anacondas
Across the four anaconda breeds—Green, Paraguayan, Dark-spotted, and Bolivian—an average of about 12 to 15 feet in length for males and 15 to 20 feet for females is more common. While it is possible for anacondas to grow beyond this length, it is not the norm, despite what reptile enthusiasts or sensational storytellers will tell you.
Because anacondas are so exceptionally massive, they are also the source of many human myths and exaggerations. Some South American myths and legends depict anacondas as magical, spiritual, shapeshifting beings, or vicious, human-eating demons. Reports of anaconda sightings and attacks are also often exaggerated, with claims of size up to 100 feet long.
Nothing of such drastic scale (pun intended) has ever been scientifically verified, but biologists do agree that it is difficult to truly measure the length of anacondas. Even if the snake is captive, zoologists have a hard time stretching it out to be measured.
The skins these reptiles shed are prone to be stretched and disproportionate, making them an invalid alternative source for measurement. Regardless, suffice it to say that these snakes are very, very big, and you don’t want to be around when they’re hungry.
Are Anacondas Venomous?
While anacondas do have considerably sharp teeth, they are not venomous. Their teeth are not used to chew food, and while an anaconda bite would certainly be painful, there is a good chance it would not be fatal. Instead of killing their prey with a venomous strike, anacondas constrict their prey with their bodies, suffocating the creature to death.
Anacondas have muscles that sense when their constricted prey’s heart stops beating, and only then do they release their grip. Even though anacondas are not venomous, it is difficult to free yourself once bitten by one, so it’s best to avoid giving them the opportunity.
They will also drag prey under the water to drown them as well. After all, anacondas can hold their breath underwater for up to 10 minutes.
Do Anacondas Eat Humans?
Ah, the age-old question. While there are many reports of anacondas attacking and eating humans, they are few and far between and none of them have been scientifically confirmed. However, since anacondas are capable of eating creatures much larger and stronger than humans, scientists agree that it is physically possible.
Still, since humans do not often live in the same natural habitat as anacondas, it is rare that they will even cross paths. Anacondas also prefer eating things that are about 40 lbs, so an anaconda probably wouldn’t want to eat a human being unless it was particularly hungry.
One case of an anaconda eating a human was recorded under peculiar circumstances. Paul Rosolie, a conservationist who works in the Amazon studying anacondas and trying to protect and preserve them, agreed to be swallowed whole by a 20-foot Green Anaconda for a Discovery Channel documentary in 2014.
The documentary, “Eaten Alive,” features Rosolie—wearing a helmet and suit designed to withstand the crushing power of the anaconda—being swallowed head first.
After being inside the snake for an hour, he worried that the crushing power would brake his arm. Using his headset, he cried out for help and the filming crew rescued him.
Rosolie was not swallowed whole, but the overall purpose of the documentary was to spread awareness about deforestation in the Amazon by featuring one of the rainforest’s more impressive inhabitants. Here is a video detailing that experience and introducing the documentary.
How Do Anacondas Hunt?
Anacondas are formidable carnivores, skilled in the craft of hunting with subtlety. Olive green mottled with black, Green Anacondas are particularly good at blending in with their environment. They eat any and every living creature that happens to be unfortunate enough to cross their path: rodents, fish, birds, capybaras, caimans, deer, and even jaguars.
Besides breeding season, these snakes typically prefer solitude and each has its own hunting territory. An anaconda will quietly lurk among trees, disguised as branches; along the ground, concealed by forest undergrowth; or in the water, with just their eyes barely peeking above the surface.
Because their nostrils are located at the top of their heads, anacondas can float downstream, barely moving at all, as they peek over the surface and scan the area for prey.
When an animal is spotted, the anaconda will lunge, snatching the prey with its teeth and holding it in place. The anaconda will use its strong coils to constrict the body of its victim, killing it by strangling it and breaking its spine.
It almost doesn’t even matter how strong its prey is, since the anaconda is able of coiling its body with a pressure of up to 62,053 KPas, or 9,000 psi. And if strangling the prey doesn’t work, the anaconda will pull it underwater and wait until it drowns.
Anacondas Razor Sharp Teeth
Anacondas’ teeth are another story; instead of being used for chewing, two rows of fangs are sharply angled inward and can move independently, helping push food down into the stomach and ensuring that the prey cannot escape. Anything that struggles against an anaconda’s inward-facing teeth will only get increasingly locked into place.
Once the prey has stopped breathing, the anaconda will begin the process of swallowing its body whole. Because they have detachable, loose jaws, anacondas can stretch their mouths around the entire body of their prey. The anaconda will start by enveloping the head of the animal so that any limbs and tails will fold down more comfortably inside its stomach.
The anaconda will slowly continue to consume its prey with wavelike muscle motions, pulling it inward with its entire body of powerful, stretchy ligaments. This process can take several hours and requires an interesting form of adaptation.
Typically, anacondas will breathe using a windpipe located deep in the back of their throats. However, since its mouth is entirely occupied when swallowing prey, an anaconda will find it nearly impossible to breathe during the process. The evolutionary solution? A land snorkel.
The anaconda will project its windpipe, moving it up to the front of its mouth and pushing it out the side, allowing it to serve as a sort of snorkel while the prey is being swallowed.
Once the prey is finally inside the anaconda’s body, it can take several weeks or even months for it to digest. Anacondas have very slow metabolisms; since they often consume prey that is much larger than themselves, it takes a while for the entire body, bones and all, to completely break down.
Where Do Anacondas Live?
Green anacondas are native to South America, primarily in the northern jungle regions of the Orinoco basin and the flooded grasslands of Venezuela. They have also been spotted living in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Paraguay, French Guiana, and Trinidad.
Anacondas spend most of their lives submerged in the water, holding very still and waiting to attack their prey. The Latin name for anaconda is “Eunectes,” which means “good swimmer,” a fitting name for a creature so suited to quickly swimming through its environment.
Anacondas thrive in tropical rainforests, streams and rivers, and flooded grasslands, and they prefer slow-moving or shallow standing water. When on land, anacondas will hide amidst thick vegetation, or coil themselves among the branches of large tropical trees.
What to Do in an Anaconda Attack
In the rare case that you or someone you are will be attacked by an anaconda, it’s important to know what to do. First and foremost, avoid the incident altogether by staying away from the natural habitats of these dangerous creatures. Steer clear of tropical forests and wetlands, especially where the rivers and streams are murky. But if you are going on a rainforest safari and want to be aware of how to deal with anacondas just in case, here’s what to keep in mind.
When in anaconda territory, wear thick clothes, sturdy boots, and gloves. Anacondas are typically in rivers and wetlands, so if you encounter one, it will likely be near your feet. Strong, hard boots and other protective clothing will help protect you from any potential strikes.
If you are walking through the jungle, stay alert and watch for anacondas in the bushes or even above you in the trees. And of course, never go without a guide.
If you are bitten by an anaconda, push into its mouth with your foot or arm. This might seem counterintuitive, and in a moment of panic it will definitely not be your first instinct, but it is critical to escaping the grip of its jaw.
Because anacondas’ teeth are angled inward, trying to pull your arm away will only serve to further lock it in place and gouge your skin. By pushing in toward the anaconda’s mouth, you can detach your skin from its teeth and (hopefully with the help of a friend or two) remove yourself from its grasp.
Anacondas Have Extremely Dangerous Squeezing Power
In the extremely rare case that you are being constricted by an anaconda, do not exhale. It will be hard not to panic, but it is critical that you control your breathing as much as possible. Every time you exhale, the anaconda will squeeze tighter and tighter, occupying the room given up by your lungs and preventing you from breathing in again.
They do this to force their prey to pass out, suffocate, and die. Take slow, extremely shallow breaths, and wait for others to help free you from its grip with weapons or tools.
If you are being attacked by an anaconda and your hands are free, try finding a rock or something sharp to hit it with. Strike the head, as this is one of the most sensitive areas of the anaconda’s body.
Predators are rarely in the mood for a fight; if you cause enough harm and pain, the anaconda will let go of you and look for food elsewhere rather than continue to allow itself to get hurt.
If all else fails, your teeth are your best weapon. That’s right. Bite back. The weakest spots on almost any snake are its eyes and the tip of its tail. Bite down hard and you have a good chance that the snake will release its grip as it recoils in pain.
Never travel in anaconda territory alone; if you do, you are asking for trouble. Lone victims are far more appealing to anacondas than creatures that travel in packs. Better yet, never travel in anaconda territory, period.