Depending on how you wish to measure the size of a snake, the largest in the world is either the reticulated python (Python reticulatus) or the green anaconda. The Guinness Book of World Records cites the world’s largest snake to be a reticulated python named Fluffy.
The reticulated python (Python reticulatus) is currently the largest snake in the world averaging an adult size of 20 to 24 feet, with an estimated maximum size of 36 feet. Adults are often measured in the 28 foot range including a specimen from the Highland Park Zoo in Pittsburg (1950-1960) named Colossus, that measure a whopping 28.5 ft. (8.7 m) before passing.
This snake gets its name from the intricate patterning on its back, a series of criss-crosses that often form a diamond pattern (this pattern resulted in the alternative name of regal python).
Females tend to be larger than males because of their reproductive organs and the nature of their brooding behavior. Almost all specimens reaching over 28 feet are female. There are several patterns of this snake in the wild including the normal, yellow head, calico, albino, tiger, super tiger, jaguar and island forms. The only other physical characteristic that may help determine this species' identity, is the relatively unmarked head having only two short stripes from the eyes down to the corner of the jaw.
Habitat and Geographic Range
These monstrous snakes inhabit tropical regions with average temperatures above 80 degrees F. They are heavily dependent on water both for movement and sustenance, so they are almost always found near a river or lake. Reticulated pythons are accomplished swimmers and are often found on costal islands in Southeast Asia. Although native to The Vietnamese Peninsula, the range stretches from Myanmar in the West to East Timor Island in the Indonesian Archipelago. Several subspecies have been proposed based on geographical distribution, but none have been adopted as of this time.
Though it does have teeth, this enormous python doesn’t use them for biting prey but rather for holding them as it constricts to suffocate them to death. The curve of the teeth also helps to pull the carcass of a large victim into the belly of the beast without letting it slip back forward. This constricting method is extremely efficient and can result in incapacitating a victim in under a minute and killing it shortly thereafter. The carnivorous nature of this snake has led it to garner an unnecessarily bad reputation as a man-eater. Yes, the Python reticulatus does eat large animals (some zoos often advertise the feeding of pigs to their pythons) in the 100 pound range, but attacks on humans are rare and most of the time they don’t result in death. Pythons don’t consider humans a food source.
Danger to Humans?
Humans are rarely attacked by reticulated pythons, even pet ones, but there have been reports of these pets eating their owners' children and other pets. A report of a Philippine teenager eaten by his family snake in 1932, was one of the many that circulated in the region. In recent times, there have been several attacks (three fatalities) attributed to pet snakes that have either gotten loose or become agitated. The fatalities did not involve consumption so it is suggested that the pythons were acting in apparent self-defense.
In a nutshell, the Python reticulatus, being one of the longest in length alone, should preclude it from being kept as a pet. Keeping such a large reptile can invariably lead to complications that will lead to its abandonment (sometimes in a tropical area like the Everglades) where it can wreak havoc on the indigenous ecosystem including any family pets that may be wandering about. Remember, just because it hasn’t been caught yet, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a 50 foot python somewhere out there.
Guinness World Record Holder
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, a reticulated python named Fluffy measured in at 24 feet (7.3 m) long. This is the longest snake ever recorded in captivity (outside a zoo). Of course, there have been other snakes that have had longer lengths claimed, but none was measured by a scientist or certified record keeper so these are not considered for record status. This is because it is hard to get a large live snake to sit perfectly still and stay straight for a measurement. As a result, the only recognized measurements are those taken on dead snakes that are later sent to museums to be kept for posterity. Even after Fluffy’s death in 2010, she still paled in comparison to the largest snake to ever inhabit the Earth, the Titanoboa which ruled the Paleocene Epoch, weighed in at 2,500 lbs. and reached a staggering 42 to 45 feet long.
The biggest snakes in the world by weight are green anacondas but because Guinness (and other major record keepers) has stopped using weight as a judging factor (because pet owners would artificially fatten up their animals leading them to early deaths), the largest snake in the world is now determined by length alone. Both on average and as an individual specimen the reticulated python takes the cake.
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Author Unknown, "Longest snake - ever (captivity)", http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/Search/Details/Longest-snake---ever-(captivity)/76058.htm
University of Florida (2009, February 4). “At 2,500 Pounds And 43 Feet, Prehistoric Snake Is Largest On Record." Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204112217.htm
Deadly Constrictor Snakes that Can Squeeze the Life Out of You, http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-constrictors-snakes-will-squeeze-you-death?image=1
Shwedick, Bruce “The Reticulated Python", http://www.reptilediscovery.com/retic.html
Image of Python Range cortesy of Accipiter @ WikiMedia Commons under the GNU Free Documentation License
Image of Yellow Headed Reticulated Python by B a y L e e ' s 8 Legged Art @ FlickR