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Odd and Giant Snake Meals – Sticks, Antelopes, People, Siamese Cats…

Gaboon ViperHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Many interesting reptile field research reports are published in professional journals that are not available online to non-subscribers. Fortunately, I’ve long had access to many of my favorites, including Copeia, Herpetologica, and Herpetological Review.  From time to time I like to provide summaries of interesting reports that I have read and enjoyed.  Today’s article covers some very unique snake feeding observations drawn from recent publications and my own experiences in the field and among zoo animals.  Please be sure to post your own observations below, thanks.

When Prey Exceeds Predator’s Mass

The largest snake meal that I’ve personally witnessed was a 60 pound White-Tailed Deer taken by a 17 foot-long, 215 pound Green Anaconda, Eunectes murinus, in Venezuela. A 130 pound Impala consumed by an African Rock Python, Python sebae, is the largest fairly reliable meal I’ve been able to document (please see article linked below).

But in terms of the ratio of prey size to snake size, a Red Duiker (small antelope) eaten by a Gaboon Viper, Bitis gabonica, beats most accounts hands down.  The antelope outweighed the snake by 4%!  In addition to being the largest meal recorded for this species, this is also the first record of an ungulate being taken by a Gaboon Viper in South Africa.  I’ve worked with Gaboon Vipers in zoos, and know how well-adapted they are for taking large, infrequent meals, but I was still quite surprised by this observation. Read More »

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. Read More »

Reticulated Python Natural History – a Giant Snake in Wild and Urban Habitats

Reticulated PythonHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The massive Reticulated Python, Broghammerus (formerly Python) reticulatus is one of the world’s best known snakes, and always the main attraction at zoo reptile houses.  It is also widely bred in private collections, although such is ill-advised given the potential dangers inherent in keeping such a formidable beast (even after decades in captivity, most retain their irascible temperament).  Today I’d like to explore a lesser known side of this impressive snake – its habits in nature, and its amazing ability to thrive even in large, crowded cities.

Description

The Reticulated Python, or “Retic” as it is known to herp enthusiasts, vies with the Green Anaconda for title of world’s longest snake  (an Anaconda would be twice as heavy as a Retic of the same length, however).  Stories abound as to its potential size, but the longest reliable measurement appears to be 32 feet, 9 inches; individuals longer than 23 feet are exceedingly rare. Read More »

Amazing Fossil Confirms that Ancient Snakes Consumed Dinosaurs

TitanoboaHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Herp enthusiasts grow up hearing such things as “Reptiles and amphibians are older than the dinosaurs…”, but it is hard to imagine what this means – to actually picture creatures that look like modern-day turtles or frogs interacting with dinosaurs.  Well, interact they did – a fossil unearthed in Western India depicts a snake about to consume a young dinosaur. Read More »

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:
http://www.reptileknowledge.com/

Until next time, Frank Indiviglio

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