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Updated: February 6, 2013 15:32 IST

Green is in

ARCHANA SUBRAMANIAN
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The Green Anaconda. Photo: Kabilan AP
The Green Anaconda. Photo: Kabilan AP

The new visitors at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust are Czech Republicans. They have settled in rather happily in their new home.

The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in Chennai has a couple of new inmates. They are heavy and long and share the name Eunectes murinus.

In simpler terms, they are ¯ the green anacondas — olive green to be more accurate with black blotches along the length of their body. The head is narrow when compared to the body. Some of them also sport orange or orange and yellow stripes on their sides. The eyes and nostrils on top of the head allows them to see and breathe with ease while swimming without exposing their body.

Barely 18 months old, they have travelled all the way from the Protivin Crocodile Zoo in the Czech Republic. They arrived at the Croc Bank in October 2011. They were in quarantine and hence off display. Quarantine is necessary to ensure that they are in good health, to monitor temperatures and for acclimatisation.

Get to know them

Anacondas are natives of South America — east of the Andes, in countries including Colombia, Venezuela, the Guyanas, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, the island of Trinidad and as far south as Northern Paraguay. In fact, Venezuela is one of the main areas where most of the shooting and filming of snakes takes place. Anacondas love wetlands which are common in the Amazon and Orinoco basins. Venezuelan Llanos known to be one of the largest wetlands in the world also houses many of them. During the dry season the waters recede and anacondas being largely aquatic bask close to the water or stay in the shallows. They prefer shallows with aquatic vegetation.

They live for about 20 to 30 years. Being one of the heaviest reptiles, can you guess what they eat? Well, they eat anything large enough, but their preference is for capybaras(large extant rodents) and caimans (crocodiles). Interestingly, caimans eat smaller anacondas.

Most males reach sexual maturity at around three to four years of age. The green anaconda’s mating ritual consists of numerous males trying to woo the female. Unlike most other snakes, anacondas do not lay eggs.

The young need no parental care and on their own from birth.

Busting myths

Size: Most people believe that anacondas can grow to any length. The females grow to a maximum of around five to six metres but not more than 10m. The people of South America have many tales based on the mythical lengths of anacondas, including one story that tells the story of people walking around a wall for two days before they came to the snake's head. They then realise that the ‘wall’ is a giant anaconda.

Appetite: Since they are reptiles their food lasts for a while. They regulate metabolism largely by external temperature (which explains the heaters in their enclosure). A nice big meal can last weeks. What we see in movies is not realistic.

Aggression: As with most animals, anacondas will defend themselves. If they are grabbed, then the only thing they can do is to use their strength to try and overpower whoever is grabbing them.

Tongue: Like all snakes, it has a forked tongue. The tongue is sensitive to airborne particles and is used for smelling. If there is more of a scent on one side of the tongue, the snake knows to turn in that direction. Whenever they detect something, the tongue will flick very rapidly. This is their way of getting as much ‘data’ as possible. So the tongue — that is often used as an evil symbol — is a simple but effective way for the snake to locate its food, or figure out where danger may lie.

With inputs from Colin Stevenson, Director, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.

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