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Monday, February 15, 2010

LINDSAY SELBY: The Giant Anaconda

Sucuri Gigante (means giant Anaconda, in South America, the common name for Anaconda is Sucuri), is said to be giant snake that controls the rivers it lives in. There are ancient tales that say it made the Amazon River. Since the discovery of the fossils of Gigantophis garstini, a large snake from the Priabonian age of the Eocene ( about 30 million years ago) that could reach 33 feet (11 metres) in length, and the more recently discovered fossils of Titanoboa cerrejonensis(from about 50-60million years ago) that reached 43 feet (14 metres), there has been some speculation it could actually exist and be an ancestor of the prehistoric creature. There have been supposed sightings of giant snakes in South America for many years .

In 1846 George Gardner wrote about his travels in Brazil. He said he saw a dead giant snake on the lands of a Senhor Lagoeira which was thirty-three feet long.

In 1907 Major Percy Fawcett, explorer, whilst in the Amazon told of two encounters with the Sucuriju gigante. The first mention was when the manager at Yorongas told Fawcett he had killed an anaconda fifty-eight feet long in the Lower Amazon. Then although initially doubtful he has his own encounter:

We were drifting along in the sluggish current not far below the confluence of the Rio Negro when ... there appeared a triangular head and several feet of undulating body. It was a giant anaconda. I sprang for my rifle ... and hardly waiting to aim smashed a .44 soft-nosed bullet into its spine ... As far as it was possible to measure, a length of forty-five feet lay out of the water, and seventeen feet in it, making a total length of sixty-two feet ... A penetrating foetid odour emanated from the snake, probably its breath, which is believed to have a stupefying effect ... The Brazilian Boundary Commission told me of one killed in the Rio Paraguay exceeding eighty feet in length!

In May 1922 Father Victor Heinz saw a monster snake near the town of Obidos, on the shores of the Amazon. He claimed it was nearly eighty feet in length.

In 1923, F.W. Up de Graff reported that an anaconda he had seen lying in the water beneath his canoe measured fifty feet in length.

Father Heinz then had a second encounter in 1929. This, however, was not quite as dramatic. He was at the mouth of the Rio Piaba, near Alemquer, when he saw two large lights appear near the surface of the water. He was told the giant anaconda lived in the area and presumed it was its eyes in the water.

Father Heinz then started collecting stories about the giant snakes. These included the accounts of trader Reymondo Zima who said that in July 1930 he had come across a serpent with glowing eyes in the Rio Jamunda, opposite the town of Faro. In September 1930 Joao Penha claimed to have seen one in the Rio Iguarape. This snake pushed a wall of submerged debris nine hundred feet (300metres) and also had glowing eyes. More recently was the account of Paul Tarvalho, from 1948, again near Faro. He said saw a snake emerge from the water that was about 150 feet (50 metres) long.

Bernard Heuvelmans wrote the about Sucuriju Gigante, saying a skin kept at the Butantan Institute in Brazil was about thirty feet in length. The painter Serge Bonacase told Heuvelmans of an encounter with a Sucuriju that he had in 1947. Bonacase's sighting took place in the swampy area between the Rio Manso and the Rio Cristalino and twenty other men where with him at the time. Bonacase estimated the snake's length at about seventy feet.

The Diario, the newspaper of Pernambuco in Brazil, on January 24, 1948 published a picture with a headline 'Anaconda Weighing 5 Tons.' The picture showed a part of a giant anaconda that was caught by the river. It was said to measure 131 feet (43 metres) long. Four months later another newspaper A Noite Illustrada printed a photograph of a dead anaconda said to be 115 feet (38 metres) long from the photographs, though it was difficult to estimate if that was the actual size.

In 1995 botanist Grace Rebelo dos Santos saw two bluish lights nearly a foot apart when a net became caught on something large and heavy. She cautiously suggested that this might be a giant anaconda. Later the same year she saw a "waterspout" about ten inches tall, and a long, dark shape could be seen underneath it, perhaps another sighting.

So could a snake really be that big? It is possible as snakes have been found 23 feet (about 7.6 metres) long and who is to say that there are not large versions out there. I would love to see one, but not up close! Snakes are fascinating creatures.

For interest some more about Percy Fawcett:

http://www.phfawcettsweb.org/anaconda.htm

12 comments:

Dale Drinnon said...

All right, I can be generous and allow you that you might have a snake 50, 60 or even 75 feet long (That's really pushing it)

But 150 or 200 feet long, or even larger? That has gone out of the realm of biology and into mythology. A whalesized snake could not crawl out on land, and it becomes a beached whale if it tries. It would suffocate under its own weight.

Another factor has been hinted at from the first: some of the sightings are "Sea-serpent" sightings including maned animals and string-of-buoys reports (Tim Dinsdale and Bernard Heuvelmans both mention such reports)

Markus said...

There are huge anacondas out there with lengths of eight meters and more, but they are not frequent and they are the exception. There are several factors in the growth of giant snakes playing a role like for example the genes. There are also external, enviromental factors such as sufficient food and retreat opportunities, little or no injury, disease or parasites and so on. If all these factors given together with a higher age only then has a snake the potential to grow up to a record individual. But even under these optimal conditions the body of a giant serpent has limits! Bringing food into body mass decreases with age rapidly so it would need for a greater increase in length a vastly larger quantity of food than in youth - and of course a corresponding processing of the food itself! Since this seems physiologically impossible only a higher age remains. But with puberty the growth decreases greatly. Data analysis has shown that even abnormally large and already old animals grow only a few centimeters a year. Looking at the maximum age of anacondas (33 years in captivity and between 28 and 30 years at best in the wilderness) offers no basis for the reports on 'Superanacondas'. So the zoological reality stands opposed to the fairy tales mentioned above.

Sources:

Bellosa, Henry / Dirksen, Lutz / Auliya, Mark: „Faszination Riesenschlangen - Mythos, Fakten und Geschichten“, München: BLV-Verlag 2007
Murphy, John C. / Henderson, Robert W.: “Tales of giant snakes – a historical natural history of Anacondas and Pythons”, Malabar (USA): Krieger Publishing Company 1997

Markus said...

(Sorry if this is a double-post)

There are huge anacondas out there with lengths of eight meters and more, but they are not frequent and they are the exception. There are several factors in the growth of giant snakes playing a role like for example the genes. There are also external, enviromental factors such as sufficient food and retreat opportunities, little or no injury, disease or parasites and so on. If all these factors given together with a higher age only then has a snake the potential to grow up to a record individual. But even under these optimal conditions the body of a giant serpent has limits! Bringing food into body mass decreases with age rapidly so it would need for a greater increase in length a vastly larger quantity of food than in youth - and of course a corresponding processing of the food itself! Since this seems physiologically impossible only a higher age remains. But with puberty the growth decreases greatly. Data analysis has shown that even abnormally large and already old animals grow only a few centimeters a year. Looking at the maximum age of anacondas (33 years in captivity and between 28 and 30 years at best in the wilderness) offers no basis for the reports on 'Superanacondas'. So the zoological reality stands opposed to the fairy tales mentioned above.

Sources:

Bellosa, Henry / Dirksen, Lutz / Auliya, Mark: „Faszination Riesenschlangen - Mythos, Fakten und Geschichten“, München: BLV-Verlag 2007
Murphy, John C. / Henderson, Robert W.: “Tales of giant snakes – a historical natural history of Anacondas and Pythons”, Malabar (USA): Krieger Publishing Company 1997

Rich said...

When reading your recital of reports, I couldn't help but think how many of those serpents died or were already dead. I don't think it is at all illogical to suggest that truly gigantic specimens of any given species would be far more common in early historical times, if ever, especially when it can be assumed age-size would be very slow to accumulate. This would apply to certain fish and invertebrates, as well as reptiles.

Another comment: I had been given to understand that a famous South American "ape" (I forget the specific name) was the only clear photograph of a cryptid. Are the anaconda newspaper photographs you mention on a substandard level? It seems to me they would be useful to see.

Tabitca said...

I think it is great that people take the time to comment and offer their opinions. Thanks everyone. Rich I have emailed one of the photos, the second one from 1949, to Jon to pass on to you or post on the blog.It's the only one I have access to.I am sure it will be on the internet somewhere as well.

charlie said...

"So could a snake really be that big? It is possible as snakes have been found 23 feet ( about 7.6 metres) long and who is to say that there are not large versions out there. I would love to see one, but not up close! Snakes are fascinating creatures."

Short answer: no. And as far as "who can say", well, it's science. Can you jump 100 feet into the air, hold your breath for a week or grow to be 50 feet tall? No, you can't- because the natural physics and biology on this planet simply don't allow it.
The largest fossil snake was actually less than 50 feet long. As others have pointed out, finding one large anaconda does not automatically infer that one can find a 130 foot anaconda.

Johnny said...

Giant snakes are no myth. A 49 foot reticulated python was caught in Indonesia a year or so ago, and is alive to this very day.

Here is a link to the MSNBC video about it: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/3846913#3846913

Markus said...

Well... Maybe you should do your homework. This video (I cant watch it under your link but it is anywhere on the web: http://video.google.de/videosearch?q=fragrant%20flower%20indonesia&oe=utf-8&q=indonesia+giant+snake&view=0#) shows "Fragrant Flower" of which her owner claims that the length is 14.85m. Unfortunately John Aglionby of The Guardian travelled to Indonesia to measure... This snake therefore is between 6.5 and 7m. Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/jan/05/animalwelfare.indonesia

Tabitca said...

The Guinness Book of World Records lists the longest captured snake as a 9.75m (32ft) reticulated python found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 1912. The heaviest is a 182.76kg Burmese python in Illinois, US.
As they check their records thoroughly we can presume this is true. There is analysis of the photos of the giant snakes in Tim Dinsdale's book " The Leviathans" which you might all find interesting.

Markus said...

According to the sources I gave before actually there are doubts about the record for the python you mentioned.
There's a claim that it has been measured and there's a bad picture (of a camera of 1912!). So this record is in doubt similiar to the long standing so called Dunn-Lamon-Record. An accurate, exactly documented and repeatable measurement is indispensable for the question about the record length. This is true for the mostly unstretched skin of a python at the Reptile Discovery Center at National Zoological Park in Washington with an estimated length between 8,65 und 9,1 m (Bellosa, Henry / Dirksen, Lutz / Auliya, Mark: „Faszination Riesenschlangen - Mythos, Fakten und Geschichten“, München: BLV-Verlag 2007).

Johnny said...

I stand corrected on "Fragrant Flower", the snake I cited. There was a Retic Python captured live a few years ago that was over 40 feet, but I am still looking for the reference. I saw a video of it being handled by a white man and a bunch of villagers. Meanwhile, here is an excellent source for many giant snake photos (translated).

http://tinyurl.com/y9og8lm

(Note that the one photo with the giant snake wrapped around poles is from the movie ANACONDA and is NOT real.)

Markus said...

Dr. Dirksen's website is very good and I recommend it - and his books too - to everyone interested in Anacondas. He was a speaker at our cryptozoology-conference last year about giant snakes and it was very interesting. Please note also that non of the (real) pictures shows a snake exceeding 9 m.

I'am open minded to a length of 12 m and waiting for your source. Anyway in view what I said before I'am sceptical.