An anaconda is a large, non-venomous snake found in tropical South America. Although the name actually applies to a group of snakes, it is often used to refer only to one species in particular, the common or green anaconda, Eunectes murinus, which is one of the largest snakes in the world.
Anaconda may refer to:
- Any member of the genus Eunectes, a group of large, aquatic snakes found in South America.
- Eunectes murinus, a.k.a. the common anaconda, the largest species, found east of the Andes in Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and on the island of Trinidad.
- Eunectes notaeus, a.k.a. the yellow anaconda, a smaller species found in eastern Bolivia, southern Brazil, Paraguay and northeastern Argentina.
- Eunectes deschauenseei, a.k.a. the dark-spotted anaconda, a rare species found in northeastern Brazil and coastal French Guiana.
- E. beniensis, a.k.a. the Bolivian anaconda, the most recently defined species found in the Departments of Beni and Pando in Bolivia.
- The giant anaconda, a mythical snake of enormous proportions found in South America.
- Any large snake that "crushes" its prey (see Constriction). Applied loosely.
As per National Geographic, the word anaconda comes from the Tamil word anaikolra, which means elephant killer.
The name was first used in the English language in 1768 by R. Edwin in a colorful description of a large snake found in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), most likely a reticulated python, Python reticulatus. The account, which explains how the snake crushes and devours tigers, is full of popular misconceptions, but was much read at the time and so gave rise to the myth of the Anaconda of Ceylon.
Various theories exist regarding the origin of the name itself. One suggests that it was derived from the Sinhala henakandaya. However, this name is used to refer to the brown vine snake, Ahaetulla pulverulenta, a slender arboreal species that grows to five feet (152 cm) at most and feeds only on small vertebrates. Another theory by Yule and Burnell (1886) is based on an entry in the Catalogue of Indian Serpents from the Leyden Museum (Ray, 1693) that reads: Anacondaia Zeylonensibus, id est Bubalorum aliorumque jumentorum membra conterens, meaning "the anacondaia of the Ceylonese, i.e. he that crushes the limbs of buffaloes and yoke beasts." Without a clear Sinhala connection, they suggest one from the Tamil language instead: anai-kondra (anaik-konda), meaning "which killed an elephant.”
The green anaconda is the largest snake in the world, when both weight and length are considered. It can reach a length of 30 feet (9 meters) and weigh up to 550 pounds (227 kilograms). To picture how big that is, if about five ten-year-olds lie down head to foot, they'd be about the length of this huge snake. And it'd take about 11 kids to weigh as much as one anaconda.
These snakes can be as big around as a grown man. They have some giant relatives, too.
The green anaconda is a member of a family of snakes called constrictors. Constrictors are not venomous snakes. They don't kill prey by delivering venom through a bite. Instead, constrictors wrap their bodies around their prey and squeeze until it stops breathing.
The giant snake opens its mouth wide enough to swallow its victim—sometimes fish or caiman (relatives of crocodiles) and even jaguars and small deer.
Anaconda jaws are held together with stretchy ligaments so they can open wide enough to swallow prey whole.
The green anaconda is an aquatic snake. It lives in swamps, marshes, and slow-moving rivers. It's nocturnal, or active at night. An anaconda will hunt on land, but it prefers to stay in the water, where its huge size feels less bulky.
The green anaconda can move swiftly both underwater and at the surface. To hunt, it lies at the surface of a pond or stream waiting for an animal to stop by for a drink. Its nostrils are located on the top of its snout, so it can breathe while almost entirely submerged.
When it attacks, it springs from the water and grabs the unsuspecting creature with its small, sharp teeth, quickly wrapping its body around the victim and squeezing it until it stops breathing. It then maneuvers its prey into its mouth, usually headfirst, and powerful muscles contract in waves to crush the meal and push it down to its stomach.
The scientific name of the green anaconda is Eunectes murinus. Eunectes comes from a Greek word for "good swimmer". In the wild, a green anaconda generally lives an average of ten years.
The Boidae family of snakes includes anacondas, boas, and pythons. One Spanish name for this snake is matatoro, which means “bull killer.” The reticulated python can grow to be longer than the green anaconda, but the anaconda is much heavier.
The green anaconda can stay underwater for as long as ten minutes without coming to the surface to breathe. Green anacondas live in the tropics of South America, as far south as Argentina, east of the Andes mountain range. Most are found in the areas along the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.
The digestion of one meal for a green anaconda can take weeks. The snake can go for months between meals. Though anacondas have been known to attack people, there is no record of one ever killing a human.
The green anaconda is usually dark green with black spots. The spots along its sides have yellow centers. The female green anaconda is larger than the male. About six months after mating, a female anaconda gives birth to between 20 and 40 baby snakes.
Boyle R. 2008. “The Anaconda of Ceylon”: Derivations and the myths at Sunday Times Lanka. Accessed 13 December 2008.