The word “anaconda” refers generally to the Eunectes genus of snakes, which are members of the boa family. Like the rest of the boa family, and unlike other snakes, anacondas give birth to live young instead of eggs. Also known as water boas, these large snakes live in and around bodies of water, and kill their prey by coiling their bodies tightly around the animal until it cannot breathe, then swallowing it whole. There are four distinct species in the Eunectes genus.
When most people hear the word “anaconda” they think of the green anaconda, Eunectes murinus, which is found over most of South America and is the best known of the species. The green anaconda’s massive size—it can grow up to 29 feet in length and weigh up to 550 pounds—makes it the largest snake in the world. These snakes feed on wild pigs, deer and even jaguars. After a particularly large kill, a green anaconda can go for months without eating again. Green anaconda babies are born predators, able to swim and hunt from birth.
Similar to the green anaconda in size and coloration, this species (Eunectes beniensis) lives only in Bolivia. The wetlands and moist lowland forests the Bolivian anaconda calls home are sparsely populated and relatively undeveloped compared to surrounding areas. Like green anacondas, these massive snakes are primarily brownish green, olive, or grayish green with black spots.
Smaller than the green and Bolivian anacondas, the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) reaches a maximum length of around 10 feet. This snake lives in Paraguay, southern Brazil, northeastern Argentina and Bolivia. As their name suggests, yellow anacondas are yellow or greenish yellow in color, with the same dark spots that characterize all anacondas. Illegal poaching threatens populations of yellow anacondas, which are hunted for meat and for their skins.
Little is known about the dark-spotted anaconda, Eunectes deschauenseei, which lives in some Brazilian wetlands in the states of Pará and Amapá. These, like yellow anacondas, are smaller in size than green or Bolivian anacondas. They are typically darker brown with large black spots. Although their habitat is threatened by local agricultural expansion, more species-specific research must be conducted to determine how this habitat degradation affects the dark-spotted anaconda.
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Jennifer Mueller began writing and editing professionally in 1995, when she became sports editor of her university's newspaper while also writing a bi-monthly general interest column for an independent tourist publication. Mueller holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and a Juris Doctor from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.