Home | Field studies and notes | World’s Largest Snake – Finding and Keeping a Giant Reticulated Python

World’s Largest Snake – Finding and Keeping a Giant Reticulated Python

FluffyHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  While working at the Bronx Zoo, I had the once-in-a lifetime opportunity of helping to import and care for one of the largest snakes in captivity.  While “largest snake” debates are ongoing, the massive Reticulated Python I came to know was awe-inspiring by any standard.  Dubbed “Samantha”, she was captured as an adult in Borneo, and eventually reached 26 feet in length and 275 pounds in weight.  The story of how she arrived in the USA involves a cash reward established by Theodore Roosevelt, the leather trade, animal dealers and other twists and turns.

Wanted: 30 Foot-Long-Snake

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, long involved with the Bronx Zoo, offered a reward to the first person who presented a snake of 30 feet in length; in time the reward grew to $50,000.  In 1992, I and other Bronx Zoo staff heard rumors that a giant Reticulated Python that had been captured in Borneo.  We did not get overly-excited… being well-seasoned, I automatically deducted 25-50% from the size of any “biggest snake-turtle-croc” stories that came my way.  But then grainy photos arrived by mail, and the snake depicted was, if not the largest I’d seen, impressive.  Whether by design or bad luck, the photos did not allow us to accurately gauge the animal’s length.

In those pre-internet days, it was difficult to correspond with the leather company that owned the snake, which was confined in a railroad car near Samarinda, Borneo. Then as now, importing large animals was fraught with difficulties. Therefore, we enlisted the help of a local leather company with ties in the region and a trusted animal importer. 

Meeting a Giant

I was on hand to pick up the snake when she arrived at Kennedy Airport in 1993, but just barely, as there were several cancellations and other problems.  I Reticulated Headfound out about the shipment at the last minute, while at a restaurant.  The ensuing trip to Kennedy and the zoo wound up being an interesting first date for my companion, who was not interested in reptiles!

As soon as we hoisted the snake’s crate, we surmised that it did not contain a record-breaker.  Our suspicions were confirmed once we stretched Samantha out on the reptile house floor.  At a “mere” 21 feet in length and 175 pounds in weight, she was impressive, but far short of what we had been led to believe. 

However, after having handled hundreds of large constrictors, I’m able to say that our new arrival was stronger by far than any captive-raised snake of similar size.  I’ve also noticed this regarding captive-bred Green Anacondas, when compared to those I’ve caught in the field. As in other species, her muscle tone was also noticeably different than that of her more sedentary relatives. 

Wrestling With a Giant (and losing!)

In the wrestling match that broke out once we unpacked Samantha, I wound up in the weighing crate with her. She pushed outward and pinned me against the crate’s side. I know what broken ribs feel like, and mine were just about to crack when my co-workers managed to pull her away from me. Only a few seconds had elapsed, and she was pushing out, not constricting (when she could have exerted far more pressure), but there was no doubt that I was grossly over-matched! 

Human-Python Interactions

It was difficult to obtain background information on Samantha…a great disappointment given her size and the fact that she was captured near a village. She was well known by local people, and reportedly used a cave as her main shelter. When Samantha began raiding chicken coops, she was easy to locate. Unfortunately, the actual details of her capture were never revealed.

Reticulated HeadReticulated Pythons often adapt well to human presence, and occur even within Bangkok and Singapore, where dogs, rats, cats and livestock form part of their diets. Visiting Singapore Zoo keepers once told me that they lost an adult Cape Hunting Dog to a free-ranging Retic. I recently came across a fascinating article which revealed that 26% of the Philippine Agta men in one region have been attacked by Reticulated Pythons, with 6 deaths resulting. Please see this article for details.

Giant Snake Diets

Samantha proved quite calm as compared to other adult, wild-caught Retics I’ve worked with. Her diet was comprised of 25-30 pound pigs, one of which she consumed each 4-6 weeks.  She was certainly capable of taking larger meals, but remained in good health on this feeding regime. At her death in November of 2002, Samantha measured 26 feet in length and tipped the scales at 275 pounds. 

The largest snake meal I’ve witnessed was a 60 pound White-Tailed Deer taken by a wild Green Anaconda in Venezuela. I’ve observed and read about many others…please see this article, and post your own experiences below.

Other Giants

The internet is stocked with claims of giant snake sightings, but many border on the ridiculous…and cross that border!  However, there are a few legitimate giants in zoos and private collections, including several that are well known by “first name” to snake fans – “Fluffy” and “Marcy” are especially popular.

Clifford Pope’s 1961 classic, The Giant Snakes, is a great resource for snake enthusiasts.  His photo of the massive “Colossus” inspired many herpetologists of my generation.

What’s Next?

The Bronx Zoo’s $50,000 reward has been withdrawn, but I like to think that a 30-foot-long Anaconda or Retic is lurking somewhere even as I write these words.  Please let me know your thoughts on this prospect, and I’d love to hear any stories, rumors or experiences you may have. 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.  

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

 

Further Reading

Humans as Python Prey

Photos of Samantha and other giants

Reticulated Pythons in Natural and Urban Habitats

Giant Snake Meals

 

 

Snake Skins in Burma image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Waguang

2 comments

  1. avatar

    well it’s got to be old news to you by now about the 55 foot snake picture in borneo I guess the driver of the bulldozer that killed it had a heart attack and died but apparently they sliced open the snake to find a security guard inside at least he defended his post..AAAAahahah….. anyway this story beginning in 1910 has always been fascinating to me…. theo roosevelt 50k 30 meter anacondas I owned several large reptiles although I can’t believe after so many years the zoo just withdrew the reward. What is the biggest snake ever recorded and is the borneo snake a fake?? Q they have only one pic on the net… and it’s a boa??? what type?? rubber boa?….emerald tree? redtail? hahahha it’s been fun alas u have a much better job then I duty calls

  2. avatar

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for your note…yes, I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to follow my passion. The 55 ft snake is a hoax; the longest accurately measured snake appears to be 33 foot long reticulated python. A number of anacondas from 17-21 feet long would rank as heaviest. in recent years, the Bx Zoo became very concerned about being perceived as encouraging collection of animals, etc…I believe the withdrawal of the reward is a result of that . SNot very wise, as such a snake would attract attention and wind up in one or another zoo collection in time in any event, but “in bigger hands than mine”, as they say!

    The articles below show the heaviest anaconda I’ve encountered, and also discuss giant snake meals and giant snakes making meals of people; enjoy, best, Frank

    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2011/12/09/captive-care-of-the-world%E2%80%99s-largest-snake-keeping-the-green-anaconda/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2012/01/30/people-as-python-prey-giant-snakes-attack-150-kill-6-in-philippines/
    http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatreptileblog/2008/04/11/big-snake-meals/

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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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