A general principle of reptile-keeping holds that “several small meals are better than one”, but there is no denying the fascination aroused by the swallowing abilities of the giant constricting snakes. I myself, even after decades of working with large snakes in zoos, was stunned when a 17 foot long anaconda I helped to capture in Venezuela disgorged a deer weighing 60 pounds (this at 3AM, below the hammock upon which I was trying to sleep)! I also observed anacondas swallowing a large side-necked turtle, Podocnemis unifilis, a 5 foot long spectacled caiman, Caiman crocodilus and a 10 pound red-footed tortoise, Geochelone carbonaria. Keepers at the Singapore Zoo informed me that a free-ranging reticulated python consumed a 40 pound cape hunting dog exhibited there.
Perhaps the most startling account is given by the Carl Hagenbeck of the Hamburg Zoo – a 25 foot long reticulated python in his collection consumed a 71 pound ibex (wild goat) several days after eating two goats of 28 and 39 pounds, for a total of 138 pounds of food within a few days! The largest meal reliably documented to have been taken by any snake seems to be the 130 pound impala eaten by an African rock python, P. sebae in South Africa(recorded by W. Rose, 1955). The group’s most “elegant” meal must surely be a Siamese cat (including bells and collar) that was taken by a reticulated python that wandered into the palace of a former king of Thailand!
Reticulated pythons are, along with anacondas, Burmese pythons, P. molurus, and African rock pythons, the only snakes known to have consumed people. I have had, unfortunately, first-hand experience with a feeding-accident fatality in NYC. Obviously, giant snake ownership is not to be undertaken lightly.
I would be very happy to learn of your own observations of snakes large and small, and to entertain your questions. Thanks.
An engrossing overview of giant snake behavior is given by famous herpetologist Clifford Pope in The Giant Snakes, 1961, A. Knopf, NY. You can also find further information at:
Until next time, Frank Indiviglio