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Big Snake Meals

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 laGreen Burmese Pythonrge 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 HamburYellow Reticulated Pythong 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:



  1. avatar

    anacondas are known to prey upon large animals like capybaras, caimans and peccaries. In some reports I have read about tapirs or jaguars falling prey to these snakes. Are these reports reliable?

    By the way, I read about the prehistoric snake that ate baby dinosaurs! I must say that this is quite amazing.

    • avatar

      Hi Dassa,

      Yes, I’ve seen them take both capybara and spectacled caiman; a baby tapir or jaguar might be possible, (there are record of reticulated pythons taking adult leopards) but not adult tapirs and probably not adult jaguar. I posted a twitter note on the snake/dinsoaur story – incredible!

      Best, Frank

  2. avatar

    An estimated 7 m long reticulated python killed a 13-year-old boy in Sumatra. This incident took place on the 21 of March. The boy and some of his friends were swimming in a river when the python attacked. People from a nearby village came to help the boy but it was too late and the python was already starting to swallow him. They threw spears on it to kill it but it escaped with some injuries.

    • avatar

      Hello Dassa

      Thanks for the update; it does happen, Sumatra/Borneo still seem to have a few giants (the BZ’s largest came out of Borneo; I had to restrain her, with co-workers, more than once, no doubt she could overpower a single adult). African Rock Pythons seem well-adapted to taking antelopes and other large prey, the major professional herp journals report a human fatality every so often. Burmese owners have of course fallen victim as well…I had the very sad task of looking into one incident some yrs ago.

      If you have a chance and know of a reference, please forward– I know these notes come in by various means, so please do not put yourself out if it is not readily available,


      Good luck and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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