The Big Five
The five largest snakes on earth!!
By Richard Carlson
This article is based upon my 26 years experience working with Pythons and Boas. I hope that this article will be informative and will dispel some of the myths surrounding these incredible reptiles.
Four of the five largest snakes on earth belong to the group known as Pythons. The Anaconda, another snake which is a member of “The Big Five”, belongs to the group known as Boas. There have been many myths about huge snakes, 50 to 100 feet in length, however those accounts of these huge serpents are pure fantasy. There has only been one snake ever found longer than 32 feet in length.
Another myth, one which pertains to large snakes that have been known to eat humans, is actually partially true. There have been confirmed cases of snakes eating humans. Most people who try to dispute this fact claim that a human’s shoulders are too wide for a snake to swallow. Anyone who keeps constrictors, such as Pythons and Boas, in captivity knows that this is just not true. These snakes can extend their jaws to many times their normal width and can swallow animals several times their body size. The two snakes that have been confirmed to have eaten humans are the Reticulated Python and the African Rock Python. However, these instances are rare and involve exceptionally large specimens greater than 20 feet in length. There has never been a confirmed case of an Anaconda devouring a human.
The preceding paragraph is the basis of a theory that I have about the difference in Pythons attitudes based on species. Burmese Pythons are far less aggressive towards humans than most Reticulated and African Rock Pythons. It is my theory that Burmese Pythons see us as a predator and a possible threat to their survival. Once they are handled and realize that we pose no threat, they lose their aggressiveness towards humans. On the other hand, I believe that Retics and African Rocks see us in a different light. They see us as a potential food source. This is especially true as they grow larger. Because of this viewpoint, these two species can never be completely trusted to the degree that other species can. In any event, you should never trust a Python or Boa to the degree that you would trust a dog or cat. Those individuals who place these large serpents around their necks are asking for trouble and could easily become a statistic. And those individuals who play with death and lose are providing ammunition to groups that wish to prevent those of us who are conscientious keepers from keeping these beautiful creatures. This is true of many other exotic animals as well, not just reptiles. Every time someone is hurt or killed by an exotic species that they were keeping or someone else was keeping, due to irresponsibility, neglect or even an honest mistake, it is big news. When this happens, the Government is pressured into enacting laws that prevent us from keeping these animals.
Due to the strength of these snakes, only the most experienced reptile keepers and herpetologists should keep them. An 8-foot python is capable of killing a man. All it takes is one coil around the neck and the game is over. For this reason, I have a general rule of thumb which I use when handling Pythons. When handling a Python, you need one person for every 4 feet of snake. Most accidents that occur when handling Pythons are a result of not following this general rule.
If you are going to keep Pythons or Boas, please follow these general rules;
- Act responsibly.
- Ensure that they are housed in a cage that is designed specifically for these reptiles.
- Follow the general rule above when handling them (1 person per 4 feet of snake).
- Keep them well fed. Pythons are less aggressive if they are fed properly.
- Keep their cages locked when unattended.
- Keep others, especially children, away from these snakes unless supervised. Too many people claim to be experts and really are not experienced at handling these reptiles.
The following is a summary of the five largest snakes based on confirmed lengths. A confirmed length requires one of the following;
- Live captured snake.
- Dead snake measured immediately after death with witnesses present, and video or pictures showing the actual measurement.
- Video or picture of a live snake stretched out next to an object of known length with witnesses present.
Confirmations not accepted;
- Snake skin. Snake skins can be stretched to twice their original length.
- Dead snake measured without witnesses confirming that it was measured immediately after death. A dead snake can grow in length as it decomposes and its dead carcass can be stretched beyond its length in life.
- Video or pictures without the presence of witnesses. Video and photographs can be easily hoaxed.
- Snake measured in the wild with witnesses present without video or pictures. There are too many individuals who are more preoccupied with perpetuating a myth than they are with passing along facts.
- Estimation of length based on a sighting. Most individuals, even experienced herpetologists, have trouble accurately estimating the length of a snake in the wild.
The Five Largest Snakes
Number 1) The largest snake on earth, in respect to length, is the Reticulated Python, Python reticulatus, specifically the Yellow-head Reticulated Python found in the Philippines and in a region of Indonesia called Sulawesi. The longest confirmed specimen was 32 feet 9-1/2 inches. The longest captive specimen was Colossus, which was kept at the Philadelphia Zoo. At the time of its death, Colossus measured 29 feet 6 inches. Colossus died of tuberculosis which she contracted from her keeper. The Reticulated Python is one of two snakes which have been confirmed to have eaten humans.
Number 2) The second largest snake is the Indian Python, Python molurus. There are 3 distinct subspecies of the Indian Python, these are the Indian Python, Python molurus molurus, the Burmese Python, Python molurus bivittatus and the Ceylon Python, Python molurus pimbura. The largest confirmed specimen of this species measured 26 feet in length.
Number 3) The third largest is the African Rock Python, Python sebae sebae. The largest confirmed specimen measured 25 feet. There is another subspecies called the Lesser Rock Python, Python sebae natalensis, but this subspecies is smaller. The African Rock Python, along with the Reticulated Python, has been known to have eaten humans.
Number 4) The fourth largest snake is the Green Anaconda, Eunectes murinus murinus. The Anaconda is not a member of the Pythons, but rather is a member of the group known as Boas. However, it deserves honorable mention in this article since it is the fourth largest snake on earth. In an article that considers weight as the definition of the largest snake on earth, then the Anaconda would be on top. Regardless of all of the stories of huge Anacondas that have been told over the years, the largest confirmed specimen measured 21 feet in length. The average size of a large adult is 15 feet. Anything else that you have read or heard is pure fiction. An article in a well-known reptile magazine showed a photo of an Anaconda in the back of a flat-bed truck that presumably measured 25 to 30 feet. However, by comparing the size of the snake to the man standing next to it and the size of the flat-bed truck, I determined that the actual length of the snake was 18 feet, give or take a few inches. This was determined using mathematical computation by comparing objects in the photo with the snake, then comparing those findings with the actual sizes of those same types of objects in the real world. This is called science. I hate it when individuals perpetuate a myth in order to profit from the myth or to pass fiction as fact. If there were 50 or 100 foot Anacondas living in South America in the past or today, there would have been a specimen killed or captured by now. There would also be evidence of these huge serpents in the fossil record. But there isn’t. The largest serpent related to Pythons known to have existed was Gigantophis. The largest fossil found of this species measured 37 feet in length. Recently scientists in South America discovered the fossil remains of what they believe to be the longest serpent to have ever lived. The fossil was incomplete, but they estimated the length to be 42 feet based on comparing the size of the ribs to the size of ribs from the largest available Anaconda specimen which was 19.5 feet long. They named the serpent Titanoboa cerrejonensis.
Number 5) The fifth largest snake on earth is the Amethystine Python, also called the Scrub Python, Morelia amethystina. The largest specimen on record measured just under 21 feet in length. This is the largest snake found on the Australian continent.