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Anaconda!

Anacondas swallow their prey whole. Could these large snakes swallow a whole person? Find out on this Moment of Science.

Before Jennifer Lopez became J. Lo, she was an up and coming actress. Perhaps her worst movie was “Anaconda,” about a giant snake that terrorizes a documentary film crew in the Amazon rain forest.

Hollywood’s version of the snake was pure fantasy–a 100 foot long giant with an appetite for B-movie actors. Although real anacondas are not nearly as large and rarely eat people, they are impressive creatures nonetheless.

Anacondas are a type of constrictor–snakes that squeeze their prey to death with powerful muscles. Although widely regarded as the largest existing snakes, they are not the longest. That distinction goes to the Asiatic reticulated python, the longest-known specimen measured at thirty-three feet. The largest known anaconda was “only” twenty-eight feet long, but measured forty-four inches around.

How did anacondas get so big? Their habitat has a lot to do with it. Living mainly in South American rivers that feed the Amazon, Anacondas spend most of their time in the water.

Unlike snakes that live in trees or on the ground, the anaconda doesn’t have to worry about climbing or chasing prey over rough terrain. Since their body weight is supported by the water, even the largest, heaviest anacondas are still effective predators.

Anacondas eat virtually anything unfortunate enough to get caught in their grip, including other snakes, fish, deer, and even small jaguars. Prey is first squeezed to death and than swallowed whole. The anaconda’s ability to unhinge its jaw allows it to swallow even bulky morsels.

Some people even keep the snakes as pets, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Anacondas are fierce predators with small brains not above strangling and swallowing dogs, cats, and even small children.

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