Can an anaconda kill a man

Can snakes really eat people?

"Giant snake devours child, farmer devoured by anaconda, baby found in stomach of python." In the rainbow press - mostly accompanied by somewhat blurry photos - horror stories of giant snakes that are said to have eaten a person with skin and hair somewhere in the distant jungle appear regularly. But how does it look in reality? Can snakes actually overwhelm and devour a person?

If you look at their anatomy, then only four snakes are able to swallow at least small stature or children "in one piece", namely the so-called "Big Four": large anaconda, reticulated python, tiger python and northern rock python. Individual specimens of these can exceed the 6-meter mark, making them one of the giants among the around 70 known giant snake species.

When it comes to length: Seldom lies as much as with Anaconda and Co. So sensational reports of gigantic snakes, whose length is said to have been 15 or even 20 meters and more, appear again and again on the Internet. But it is more than doubtful that examples of this caliber actually exist. According to the Guinness Book of Records, a 10 meter long reticulated python is still in first place. This is a female that was caught on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 1912.

Horrific but real cases have been reported in South Africa and the Philippines
If you look at the few well-documented cases in which giant snakes have attacked people, you will see that the danger posed by these reptiles is usually vastly exaggerated and in some cases borders on hysteria. However, it cannot be completely dismissed: Only recently, two boys in Canada were strangled in their sleep by a rock python. Over the years, there have even been a few cases, confirmed by credible testimony, of people being devoured by giant snakes. Children in particular have fallen victim to pythons or anacondas several times.

In 1979 a thirteen-year-old shepherd boy was attacked by a four and a half meter long rock python in northern South Africa. A second shepherd boy who had seen the attack of the giant snake immediately ran to the next village to get help. However, when he and two men returned to the scene after twenty minutes, it was already too late. The attacked boy had already been completely fed by the python. The men then hit the almost grotesquely bloated snake with sticks until it choked out the boy's already heavily salivated corpse.

Another report of a human snake meal comes from the Philippine island of Mindoro. There, in 1998, villagers discovered an approximately seven-meter-long reticulated python with an unusually bulging body in the jungle. After killing the animal and cutting open the body, the Filipinos made a gruesome discovery: there was a grown man in the reptile's digestive tract who had been reported missing by his relatives the day before. The victim's skin was already badly corroded by the stomach acid. There were bite marks on the left foot.

There is even a picture of this scene circulating on the Internet that, according to experts, can actually be classified as genuine. The photo shows that both the jeans and the T-shirt of the dead man were already bleached by the acidic digestive juices at the time of the discovery. But there is still another question: How does a giant snake actually manage to swallow a person in one piece with a relatively small mouth? The answer is simple: Giant snakes have two flexible lower jaws that can be detached from the upper jaw, giving the snake's mouth incredible flexibility. And such a detachable jaw makes the swallowing of large chunks much easier, of course, and allows a giant snake to devour almost every living being with its skin and hair.

A large anaconda devours a capybara in one piece.
Image: EvaK / (exhibited in Frankfurt am Main)

In order to put their jaws back into place after the meal, pythons and co. Simply have to yawn heartily a few times and all parts of the skull will sit where they belong. Once the supposed bottleneck of the throat has been successfully passed, the gastrointestinal tract has to begin with the Herculean task of chopping up the oversized meatball.

In the case of giant snakes, the stomach initially produces large quantities of a strong hydrochloric acid solution, which breaks down the prey into a more or less homogeneous pulp within a very short time. In order to master the enormous amount of nutrients, the intestines and liver in the snake's body swell to three times their normal size within a few hours. However, the reptiles manage without cell reproduction. The enlargement is caused solely by increased blood or lymph pressure in a kind of "inflating effect".

Giant snakes can make their hearts grow after they have had a big meal
Of course, digesting large prey also means hard work for the heart and lungs of the giant snake, as the digestive process itself consumes around forty times more oxygen than when it is at rest. This can be compared to the metabolic performance of a racehorse at full gallop. However, racehorses only have to endure this performance for a few minutes. Giant snakes, on the other hand, have to maintain this condition for a few days.

A team of researchers from the University of California found out how snakes do this in 2005: They just let their hearts grow. With the help of the increased production of a certain protein, the reptiles increase their heart muscle mass by a whopping 40 percent just a short time after eating, which drastically increases the pumping capacity of the heart. This in turn enables the giant animals to pump up to 50 percent more blood through their vessels per heartbeat than under normal conditions, which in turn has a positive effect on the oxygen supply to the body and other life processes.

When the digestive process ends, the snake immediately switches its body functions back to "normal mode" for economic reasons: All inflated organs such as the intestines, heart or liver then shrink back to normal as quickly as they grew before.