There is no doubt that there are several snake species which are large enough to eat a human but how often does it occur? The internet abounds with false stories which make it difficult to separate fact from fiction. Out of the world’s largest snake species, four tend to crop up in the news more than most: The Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), the Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and the African rock pythons (Python sebae & P.natalensis).
There is strong enough evidence to suggest that the reticulated and African rock pythons have, on more than one occasion eaten or attempted to eat people. So far as we know, green anacondas have not. Herpetologists have argued that giant snakes only eat people under exceptional circumstances, but a study by Headland & Greene (2011) shows compelling evidence for reticulated pythons routinely preying on the indigenous Agta people of Luzon, Philippines. The average Agta man weighs just 44.2kg which easily falls into the prey size of an adult female reticulated python, whose natural diet consists of wild pigs weighing up to 60kg (Shine et al. 1998).
The photo to the left taken by J. Headland shows a reticulated python that was shot by the Agta man on the right on June 9th, 1970 at the headwaters of the Koso river, Luzon, Philippines. Note the girth and head size of the snake compared to the men.
An older report by Branch and Hacke (1980) describes the attack and attempted consumption of a 13-year-old South African boy by a large African rock python. Attempts to remove the python were unsuccessful and the official cause of death was suffocation and internal injuries. Since this particular report, there have been several similar news articles originating from southern Africa, which would also appear to hold some truth.
In an attempt to prove that green anacondas are capable of eating a human, international f*cktard Paul Rosolie made a documentary called ‘Eaten Alive’. I must stress that I have so far managed to avoid watching his farcical stunt, but I believe that after an hour and a half of hype, it bit his head and his crew pulled it off him. It proved nothing and very likely injured the snake. With regards to actual studies, as far as I can tell there are no documented reports of people being eaten by anacondas. There are certainly plenty of bite reports and I see no reason why a large female couldn’t eat a child but so far it has not been reliably confirmed. Any such attacks would be more likely to occur on remote, indigenous people which could explain the lack of evidence.
If you are reading this post, then it’s likely that you are familiar with the following photograph. Not only has this reticulated python been wrongly referred to as an anaconda, it has apparently eaten people in India, South Africa, Malaysia, China and Indonesia. Stories like this both fascinate and terrify people, so it’s not really a surprise that they go viral. With this in mind I ask that next time you see a man eating snake story, review the facts and then make up your own mind. And next time you hear about your friend’s friend whose pet snake really did stretch out to measure them up to eat – a short, sharp slap to the throat should shut them up.
Branch, W. R. and Hacke, W. D. (1980) A fatal attack on a young boy by an African rock python, Python sebae. Journal of Herpetology. Vol. 14 no. 3, pp 305-307.
Headland, T. N. and Greene, H. W. (2011) Hunter-gatherers and other primates as prey, predators, and competitors of snakes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States or America. Vol. 108 no. 52.
Shine, R., Harlow, P. S., Keogh, J. S. and Boeadi (1998) The influence of sex and body size on food habits of a giant tropical snake, Python reticulatus. Functional Ecology. Vol. 2, Issue 2, pp 248-258.