11 Fun Facts About Anacondas

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iStock

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.  

Fossilized Fat Shows 550-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature May Have Been the World's First Animal

Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

A bizarre sea creature whose fossils look like a cross between a leaf and a fingerprint may be Earth's oldest known animal, dating back 558 million years.

As New Scientist reports, researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) made a fortunate find in a remote region of Russia: a Dickinsonia fossil with fat molecules still attached. These odd, oval-shaped creatures were soft-bodied, had rib structures running down their sides, and grew about 4.5 feet long. They were as “strange as life on another planet,” researchers wrote in the abstract of a new paper published in the journal Science.

Another variety of fossil
Ilya Bobrovskiy, the Australian National University

Although Dickinsonia fossils were first discovered in South Australia in 1946, researchers lacked the organic matter needed to classify this creature. "Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution, or the earliest animals on Earth,” senior author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at ANU, said in a statement.

With the discovery of cholesterol molecules—which are found in almost all animals, but not in other organisms like bacteria and amoebas—scientists can say that Dickinsonia were animals. The creatures swam the seas during the Ediacaran Period, 635 million to 542 million years ago. More complex organisms like mollusks, worms, and sponges didn’t emerge until 20 million years later.

The fossil with fat molecules was found on cliffs near the White Sea in an area of northwest Russia that was so remote that researchers had to take a helicopter to get there. Collecting the samples was a death-defying feat, too.

“I had to hang over the edge of a cliff on ropes and dig out huge blocks of sandstone, throw them down, wash the sandstone, and repeat this process until I found the fossils I was after,” lead author Ilya Bobrovskiy of ANU said. Considering that this find could change our understanding of Earth’s earliest life forms, it seems the risk was worth it.

[h/t New Scientist]

Cats Take Turns Napping With the 75-Year-Old Star Volunteer at This Animal Shelter

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iStock

The star volunteer at Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Wisconsin doesn't have to do much to make a cat's day. According to Huffington Post, Terry Lauerman, a 75-year-old from Green Bay, visits his local shelter every day to take a cat nap with the residents.

Safe Haven is a cage-free, no-kill animal shelter that gives a home to special needs cats at risk of being put down. When Lauerman first showed up at Safe Haven earlier this year, he didn't talk to the shelter employees about becoming a volunteer—instead, he waltzed in and started grooming the cats with a brush he had brought himself. After this continued for a while, the shelter decided to make his volunteer status official.

Lauerman has since settled into a daily routine. After brushing the cats, he tends to fall asleep with them, and after an hour or so he wakes up and finds a different cat to nod off with. Safe Haven recently shared his story on their Facebook page: "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry," the post reads. "He brushes all of the cats, and can tell you about all of their likes and dislikes. He also accidentally falls asleep most days. We don't mind—Cats need this!"

The post has since been liked by over 68,000 people and shared more than 18,000 times. Safe Haven wrote in the comments, "When Terry comes in today, I'm going to have to tell him that he's famous. I can almost guarantee he'll just laugh and say "Oh, really?"...shake his head...and then go back to brushing cats." Lauerman is also encouraging fans of the viral post to show their appreciation by donating to the shelter, which ends up with more medical bills than many shelters that don't have cats with disabilities. You can contribute cash here or make a donation through the shelter's Amazon wish list.

[h/t Huffington Post]

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