Monday, May 11, 2009

Hunting the world's biggest snake

So I'm sure a few of you guessed this was coming when I mentioned we'd been looking for big animals in Venezuela. Los Llanos is home to the world's biggest snake species (by mass) the green anaconda. Now historically I have not had the best of luck with big snakes, the week before I moved to Singapore someone found a 12 foot reticulated python in what was about to become my swimming pool. They called animal control and it was relocated and I never connected with a wild retic. Llanos though is supposed to be stacked with big snakes and we were arriving at the very end of the dry season when finding them should be at its easiest.


These shots show the kind of habitat we were working in, huge open wetland plains dotted with little creeks, ponds and puddles often full of water hyacinths and loaded with prey species: birds, capybara, deer and other mammals (if you click here and thereby supersize the above picture you'll be able to see at least 3 mammal species and perhaps a dozen or so bird species).

anaconda habitat

Anacondas love the water - it helps support their massive bulk and they can move much more easily through it than on land. It also provides an ideal hiding place from which they can ambush much as crocodillians do. This is how you hunt for anaconda - you probe the mud with your pole feeling for something solid but mobile. The stick is used as there are two species of crocodillian here and you don't want a bite so you wait until you're sure you've found your anaconda before reaching in for it.

anaconda hunting

This method relies a lot on the water level being just right, too little water and the anacondas will move elsewhere, too much and they will swim off when they feel the stick probing before you can get to them. Unfortunately the rains had arrived at the same time as us and the water level had risen higher than was ideal. We watched and waited with bated breath as our guide probed and probed before giving up and driving to the next waterhole to repeat the process. This went on over a couple of days and I was beginning to lose hope. Then up in the distance 2 Jacanas began to scream.

anaconda first look

Tomorrow: What the lilytrotters saw.

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