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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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technology
This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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