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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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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
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Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
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Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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