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11 Fun Facts About Anacondas

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Let’s wrap our heads around the stranger-than-fiction world of these heavyweight constrictors. (NOTE: Although there are four anaconda species, the formidable “green” variety Eunectes murinus is, by far, the largest and most famous—so we’ll be focusing on this snake in today’s article.)   

1. Anacondas Give Birth to Live Young.

Laying eggs is overrated. Several serpents—including anacondas and garter snakes—practice something called “ovoviviparity.” Essentially, this means that these reptiles’ offspring emerge from eggs before leaving their mothers’ bodies. When the big day finally arrives, they wriggle out as fully-formed youngsters. A healthy anaconda mom can squeeze out over 30 babies per litter.

2. Anacondas can Remain Submerged for Up to Ten Minutes at a Time.

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As an added bonus, anacondas—like crocodiles—also have eyes and nostrils designed to poke above a river’s surface. No wonder the stealthy, semi-aquatic predators are occasionally called “water boas.”

3. The Green Anaconda is the Heaviest Known Snake, but Not the Longest.

Python, via iStock

Thanks to their muscular physique, the green anaconda is earth’s most massive serpent while Asia’s slightly-longer reticulated python (Python reticulatus), though leaner, is the lengthiest. Unfortunately, when dealing with agitated constrictors, exact measurements can prove elusive. Nevertheless, large anacondas often tip the scales at over 200 pounds while the biggest “retics” are around 25 feet long [PDF].

4. They’re Members of the Boa Family.

Diverse and fairly primitive, boids can be found in the Americas, Madagascar, the West Indies, and the southwest Pacific.

5. Appropriately, Anacondas Enjoy Dining on Earth’s Biggest Rodent.

Capybaras frequently weigh upwards of 150 pounds and are a common sight in the green anaconda’s Amazonian habitat.

6. …And the Occasional Crocodilian.

Caimans are alligator-like predators that frequent South American waterways. Anacondas are known to hunt these reptilian neighbors, but often sustain significant injuries while doing so.

7. Like Most Snakes, Anacondas have Four Rows of Teeth on Their Upper Jaws.

A royal boa (not an anaconda) via iStock

Four (mostly) parallel lines of backwards-pointing teeth help serpents grip their prey and swallow it whole. The lower jaw adds another two for extra assistance.  

8. They Practice Cannibalism.

Female green anacondas are this species’ larger sex and have been spotted engulfing meeker males, usually during mating season (April through May).

9. Anacondas Form “Breeding Balls.” 

Not even the threat of getting eaten alive can deter an amorous male. Up to 12 suitors will seek out one receptive female and (rather than taking turns) begin coiling around her simultaneously. The lucky fellow who manages to shove his competitors aside and actually mate embeds a wax-like “plug” inside his partner’s cloaca, which prevents the other males from fertilizing her [PDF].

10. Anacondas will “Sidewind” Now and Then.

While getting around, snakes have several options, of which “sidewinding” is perhaps the most athletic. Unlike normal slithering, this exhausting technique involves a given reptile using large, J-shaped coils to hastily pull itself along. In general, smaller snakes are more likely to sidewind, although—as the above footage shows—their big cousins will sometimes follow suit.

11. Do Anacondas Eat People? Scientists Aren’t Sure.

At present, there are no verified reports of a green anaconda ingesting a human being. Given the snake’s frightful dimensions, there’s little doubt that one could kill and eat an unsuspecting adult. Furthermore, these predators do consume white-tailed deer—which can weigh over 120 pounds—in the wild. But, until some conclusive documentation shows up, man-eating anacondas can be written off as nothing more than an academic hunch … unless you ask the Discovery Channel. Last week, animal rights activists were outraged after this trailer for a program called “Eaten Alive” went viral:

Allegedly, the network filmed naturalist Paul Rosolie getting swallowed whole by an anaconda. Rosolie—who was said to have been clad in a “snake-proof” suit which protected him from its digestive tract—claims that no harm befell the animal (or, obviously, himself). But zoologists aren’t convinced. Reptile expert Frank Indiviglio has called the stunt impossible, while other critics point out that Discovery has repeatedly misled viewers with fake-footage “mockumentaries” before. Hopefully, we’ll learn the truth soon enough.  

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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