Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Green Anaconda

The Green Anaconda is the heaviest snake in the world.  What does that really mean?  It means that a large Green Anaconda can weigh more that an average human male.  The heaviest wild Green Anaconda that has been scientifically weighed was 215lbs.  Yes - 215lbs of muscle and bones.  This was a big snake!  Green Anacondas are often mistaken as the longest snake in the world but this record belongs to the Reticulated Python which was discussed in my Lucy Grace post.  The longest Green Anaconda ever scientifically measure was 17'1" long which is over 4' shorter than the longest Reticulated Python. This video of the Green Anaconda Song is actually a very good factual representation (except for the weight and length) of these not-so-gentle giants.

So why am I writing about Green Anacondas???  Well these snakes have quickly become a favorite of mine because of one small anaconda that came to me from a local pet store.  Once again, a customer of the pet store bought a baby green anaconda.  When they are born (yes - anacondas give live birth to their young) anacondas are small and very cute.  Averaging about 22" long they don't seem that big however when properly fed can reach 5' long and weigh 10-15lbs in a year!  This is an amazing and one of the fastest growth rate for any snake.

Ashton (my five year old) with Pequeña
Well - this baby snake that quickly grew into a 5' long snake and with little handling during this time it also became a snake with a strong defensive response to being held.  The pet store called me and asked if I wanted to adopt the green anaconda for our education programs and my answer is always yes despite the snake's temperament.  Even defensive snakes can be held successfully without being bitten once the defensive triggers of the snake have been identified.  So the Center for Snake Conservation now has a new 5' long Green Anaconda named Pequeña.

Pequeña is a female Green Anaconda who has a little temperamental issue when held.  If she is on the ground, she is a perfect angel but it when she is picked up that bites can occur.  I have gotten to know Pequeña pretty well and now am bitten only when I make a mistake handling her.  The bites I receive are never that bad or her fault as she is only defending herself.  Typically I did something to her (showing off her unique head morphology)  or moved in a threatening way.  

The nostrils and eyes of anacondas are both on top of their head.
This helps them see and breathe at the same time like an alligator.

Examples of Pequeña's bites:

Grazing bite to finger
Full bite to thumb

So how do you handle a large snake that can bite?  The answer is very, very carefully.  Snakes get defensive when you grab them - this can cause even the nicest snake to bite.  With large snakes it is almost impossible not to grab them as you hold onto them.  Never grab a snake behind its head unless it is extremely defensive even when not restrained.  This presents a tough challenge when holding an anaconda.  I move slowly once the snake is in my hands and try to passively support the snake.  This helps her feel safe.  Ashton below is demonstrating a technique where the snake is on the ground.  He is holding her tail when positioning the snake gently with a snake hook.

Me and Pequeña
Ashton showing how to handle Pequeña safely

What do you do if you are bitten a large snake?  Well I have not had a bad bite from Pequeña yet but my friend Jesus Rivas certainly has from other anacondas.  Jesus is a research biologist who has worked with Green Anaconda for over 20 years in the Llanos of Venezuela.  I met Jesus while he was filming a show with National Geographic about snakes in the southeastern United States.  He came to the Savannah River Ecology Lab to film my advisor's research on the defensive behavior of cottonmouths.  If you can believe it, as part of this research we intentionally found cottonmouths and stepped on them to show that their defensive behavior does not include biting when stepped on.  The MAJORITY of snakes we stepped on never even tried to bite.

A very large anaconda from Brazil
Photographer unknown
Back to Jesus.  Jesus and I have kept in contact sporadically over the years but what has impressed me the most about Jesus is his fearless ability to find and catch large anacondas in the wild.  He wades in water up to waist deep feeling for anacondas with his feet.  He has stepped on many black caiman and even a crocodile doing this.  Once he finds an anaconda, he works his hands along the snake's body until he can grab it by the head.  Jesus perfected a technique to not get bitten but sometimes accidents happen.  Check out the short video below (ignoring the "among the world's deadliest" comment) for how to get an anaconda off of you once you have been bitten.  Actually it is easier to just let go of the snake but since Jesus doesn't want it to get away, he holds onto it and has to manually extract his finger.

Back to Pequeña.  Why would I want a snake that bites for education programs?  Isn't the Center for Snake Conservation about dispelling myths?  Yes but we also want to show a diversity of snakes despite their temperaments.  A Green Anaconda is a perfect snake to teach about snake growth, size, morphology, and temperament.  We also discuss snake safety as any of the giant species are ALWAYS (no exceptions) two person snakes.  This means that no one even opens the cage of a giant snake when alone.  Even when we travel to our snake talks, the giant snakes have locks on their travel containers.  Just recently, I got a request from a friend for a video of what exactly is in the locked box.  Check out the short video I made explaining everything.

Pequeño from Snakes on Vimeo.

So Pequeña, despite her strong defensive response to handling, is a perfect educator for the Center for Snake Conservation.  I really look forward to developing a personal relationship (yes - snakes get to know who you are and will act differently with other people) with her.  Currently I am the only educator allowed to handle her but I hope this will one day change.  Regardless, she is going to be a perennial participant in my snake presentations.

Demonstrating how a Green Anaconda's head morphology is an advantage in the water.

Pequeña climbing my leg during a presentation

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