Thursday, July 4, 2013

31 Days of Monsters: Megaconda

It's a given, that the South American rain forest is teeming with animals and plants yet to be discovered by science. Most are small, like this cricket discovered in a cave in Venezuela, which can swim and eats flesh. The idea that larger animals could be slinking through the trees, ground-litter and the murky water, is one that is easy to accept.

Name: Giant Anaconda, Megaconda, Titanoboa

Length: 40 - 60 feet

Appearance: Reports are of a common Anaconda, easily found in the amazon rain forest, but in sizes that are not accepted for the species. The common anaconda is accepted to reach lengths of up to 18 feet, far from the 40 - 60 feet claims which come out of the jungle every two to three years.

Threat: High. Snakes are known to be opportunistic carnivores, eating whatever they can swallow. The width of a human's shoulders generally impedes a large snake's ability to devour a person, though it is known through several reports that Anaconda's and even some large Boa's have attempted to eat people. A snake the size of the giant anaconda, would have no difficulty in catching, killing, and devouring a human adult whole

Sightings are mostly anecdotal, stories from native tribes and the rare glimpse of a serpent with nothing around to help judge its size accurately. The fact that these snakes are aquatic, and the murkiness of the Amazon river can make it very difficult to determine a snake's size. You may be able to see the head and ten feet clearly, but there is really no telling how much of the snake is still hidden in the water. It could be six feet, or it could be another twenty. That the issue is a matter of size of a known animal rather than a new species, coloration doesn't vary either between the common and the giant anaconda.

Outside of sightings, the only other evidence are skins, shed and whole. Shed skin can give some hints, from the size of individual scales, but shed skins are very fragile and a whole shed skin the size of a giant anaconda would be extremely difficult to find. The other option would be a real skin, but those can be lengthened out to up to 50% longer than they were in life through the tanning process. So for a real skin to be accepted to be from a giant anaconda, it would probably have to reach 60 to 80 feet long or more.

While the giant anaconda is limited to the Amazon rain forests of South America, there is a current problem in the Florida Everglades with Reticulated and Burmese Pythons. The perfect climate and the lack of any natural predators means a lot of these snakes are quickly growing to threatening sizes that, while they may not be able to devour an adult human, they could still easily kill one, and it would be very possible that smaller children could disappear, only to turn up inside a large snake.

As far as movies go, it would be remiss to discuss this monster without the movie that bears its name. Giant snakes have been a common movie monster, and have seen several incarnations, from Anacondas to Boas, Cobras and Dragons. In a few lesser movies, they even fought each other. They seem to be much less popular in books, however, being trumped by more threatening reptiles such as alligators, crocodiles and dinosaurs.

While most scientists will dismiss the idea of snakes that big, there are ones that size and larger in the fossil record, and reports of sightings continue to this day. Two facts which support the possibility of such large serpents. Snakes can continue to grow throughout their lives, based on the amount of food available, so with a constant supply of food, as is provided by farming communities in the Amazon now. Also, there is a large amount of the Amazon which remains to be explored in the current age, between 60 to 80% depending on some sources. So it's very likely there are large animals left to be discovered.

So if you travel to the Everglades or down to South America, be aware if you go swimming in the rivers. These ambush predators aren't picky about what they grab, even if they don't find out they can't eat their prey until after it's dead.

~ Shaun

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