Anacondas are the largest snakes in the world. Using their powerful bodies to squeeze their prey, they tighten their grip every time the animal exhales, until it cannot take another breath. Then, they swallow their food whole. The green anaconda is found in northern South America, occurring in Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, eastern Paraguay, northern Bolivia, north-east Peru, Guyana and French Guiana. It can also be found on the island of Trinidad off the north-east coast of Venezuela.
A semi-aquatic species, the green anaconda is typically found in shallow water, either in seasonally flooded savanna, such as Llanos grasslands of Colombia and Venezuela, or in the rivers of the vast Amazon Basin . Anacondas are ovoviviparous, which means that the females carry the eggs within their bodies until the babies are ready to hatch. Then, the pregnant female can give birth to anywhere from 12 to more than 80 2-foot-long baby snakes. The young anacondas are independent as soon as they are born, and do not receive any parental care. It can take many years for a hatchling anaconda to be old enough to breed. When on land, this species is most commonly found amongst thick vegetation, although it may also climb trees. A member of the boa family, South America’s green anaconda is, pound for pound, the largest snake in the world. Its cousin, the reticulated python, can reach slightly greater lengths, but the enormous girth of the anaconda makes it almost twice as heavy.
Green anacondas can grow to more than 29 feet (8.8 meters), weigh more than 550 pounds (227 kilograms), and measure more than 12 inches (30 centimeters) in diameter. Females are significantly larger than males. Other anaconda species, all from South America and all smaller than the green anaconda, are the yellow, dark-spotted, and Bolivian varieties. Anacondas live in swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, mainly in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. They are cumbersome on land, but stealthy and sleek in the water. Their eyes and nasal openings are on top of their heads, allowing them to lay in wait for prey while remaining nearly completely submerged. They reach their monumental size on a diet of wild pigs, deer, birds, turtles, capybara, caimans, and even jaguars. Anacondas are nonvenomous constrictors, coiling their muscular bodies around captured prey and squeezing until the animal asphyxiates. Jaws attached by stretchy ligaments allow them to swallow their prey whole, no matter the size, and they can go weeks or months without food after a big meal.
Female anacondas retain their eggs and give birth to two to three dozen live young. Baby snakes are about 2 feet (0.6 meters) long when they are born and are almost immediately able to swim and hunt. Their lifespan in the wild is about ten years. The green anaconda is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Trade in International Species (CITES), thereby regulating all commercial trade in this species through the use of permits and annual export quotas . In addition, in some parts of its range, such as Venezuela, the green anaconda is protected by national laws, making all use of green anaconda products illegal. Unfortunately, despite these regulations, illegal hunting remains problematic. In Bolivia, where hunting is permitted, efforts have been made to establish a sustainable use program, but at the current time political unrest has halted its development.