Last night, after BDN Portland first revealed that the massive snakeskin found in Westbrook this month belonged to an anaconda, the Texas scientist who ran genetic testing on the skin reached out with an update: The skin came from a green, not a yellow anaconda.
“So, the bigger species, the one that gets 20-30 feet,“ John Placyk, a University of Texas, Tyler herpetologist, wrote in an email.
Using the private dataset of a colleague who has devoted his life to studying the world’s largest species of snake, Placyk was able to identify the skin with greater specificity than the public genetics library maintained by the U.S. government had allowed.
There is no definitive link between the anaconda snake skin and the various sightings this summer of a large snake slithering around the Presumpscot River and chowing down on what might have been a beaver. But since the snake spotted by residents and police in Westbrook has displayed behavior characteristic of a green anaconda, we thought we’d share some facts about the massive snakes.
By weight, green anacondas are the largest snakes in world although some pythons can grow to be longer. The snakes can grow to be between 20 and 30 feet and weigh up to 550 pounds, according to National Geographic. Females usually grow larger, but the size of the South American species is often stretched and researchers believe most reports of 40 foot plus anacondas are just big snake stories. Anacondas captured in the plains of Venezuela likely top out around 17 feet long, according to research conducted by noted herpetologist Jesús Rivas, whom lent Placyk his data set. But the researcher also noted that larger snakes lurk in more remote areas.
They can eat
Green anacondas are not venomous, although they do have a serious bite. Their main method of killing prey is constriction. The snakes coil their long, muscular bodies around the animal they plan to eat and gradually squeeze until it asphyxiates. They then stretch their jaws and swallow the animal whole, no matter its size. Large anacondas have been known to eat birds, turtles, large lizards wild pigs, deer and even jaguars. And in case that diet isn’t enough green anacondas are also known to engage in cannibalism.
Here’s a pretty disturbing video purporting to show an anaconda eating a deer.
They’re quick in the water
Hulking anacondas are ungainly on land and Placyk said film depictions of them swinging from trees — like in the “Anaconda” film series — are utterly unrealistic. But they are strong swimmers and are able to move swiftly through the water soon after birth.
Unless you recently watched “Anaconda 3: Offspring,” an anaconda is likely to be more worried about you than you are about it. “In my experience of catching hundreds of anacondas of all sizes, I have found that large individuals are very unlikely to attack when disturbed … Large individuals in water tend to swim away,” wrote Rivas in his doctoral dissertation.
They like it hot
Like all snakes, the green anaconda is cold blooded. They are native to a large stretch of northern South America and ill adapted to Maine’s cold climate. If there is one loose in Westbrook, Placyk said it likely won’t survive even through late fall. “Once temps start floating around 50 for a sustained period, it will most likely die in short order,” he said.