Snakes can grow to colossal sizes, although some reports have long been exaggerated.
The largest snakes in the world belong to the python and boa families. Which family contains the biggest depends on whether you are measuring these reptiles by weight or length.
While man-eating snakes are exceptionally rare (although it has been known to happen), there are some truly huge species slithering about on our planet.
What is the longest snake in the world?
The reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) is the longest snake in the world, regularly reaching over 6.25 metres in length.
The longest reticulated python ever recorded was found in 1912 and measured in at a staggering 10 metres – that’s more than half the length of a bowling lane and makes this snake longer than a giraffe is tall.
Reticulated pythons live in southeast Asia and while they are typically found in rainforests, woodland and grasslands, their habitat preference seems to depend on their location. In Myanmar, these non-venomous snakes have only been found in pristine forest, whereas in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysian Borneo they’ve also been recorded in sewers.
Reticulated pythons are known to climb trees by firmly wrapping their bodies around the trunks and using muscular upward force.
The longest and heaviest snake to ever be held in captivity was a female reticulated python called Medusa. Held in the USA, Medusa reached 7.67 metres long and weighed 158.8 kilograms.
Green anacondas (Eunectes murinus) are also exceptionally long snakes. But they have also been subject to exaggerated length measurements in the past, with snakes of over 24 metres allegedly sighted. In reality, the green anaconda rarely exceeds 6.25 metres.
The longest venomous snake
The king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is the world’s longest venomous snake.
In 1937, a 5.54-metre-long king cobra was found in Negeri Sembilan state on the Malay Peninsula. Captured and kept at London Zoo, it eventually grew to 5.71 metres before being killed at the outbreak of the Second World War, to avoid putting the public in danger should the zoo be bombed and the snake escape.
Over five metres is unusual for king cobras, although even their average length of 3.7-4.6 metres makes them large animals.
These snakes best show off their length when they’re feeling defensive or need to see above tall grass or bushes.
They will raise the front of their body up to about one metre off the ground and can even chase threats while in this posture. As an additional scare tactic, they will hiss and flatten their neck ribs into a hood, giving them the classic cobra shape.
A Museum worker holds a king cobra specimen in the 1930s. It is thought that the specimen may have just arrived at the Museum when this photo was taken.
These snakes generally prefer to flee than fight, however.
King cobras are found in south and southeast Asia in a variety of habitats including forests, mangrove swamps and some agricultural land with remnants of woodland. They’re also competent swimmers.
However, they are generally uncommon in any of the areas they inhabit, with the exception of some forested areas in Thailand.
King cobras are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In parts of their range, they have faced population declines of over 80% in 10 years due to habitat loss and exploitation, such as being harvested for its skin, food and medicinal purposes.
The longest sea snake
Growing up to 2.75 metres long, the yellow sea snake (Hydrophis spiralis) is the longest species of sea snake. Most specimens that have been collected are less than two metres long, however.
The yellow sea snake lives in the northern Indian Ocean and around parts of southeast Asia, as well as being seen near New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean.
Relatively little is known about these sea snakes. There have been records of the species at up to 50 metres below the surface and it is generally found over muddy sandy bottoms, feeding on eels.
What is the heaviest snake in the world?
Green anacondas are the heaviest snakes in the world. The heaviest anaconda ever recorded was 227 kilograms. This massive snake was 8.43 metres long, with a girth of 1.11 metres.
While the reticulated python is longer, it’s also slender. Anacondas are bulky. It’s estimated that a 5.2-metre-long anaconda would weigh about the same as a 7.3-metre-long reticulated python.
Green anacondas are non-venomous, solitary and found in South America and Trinidad. They spend most of their time in water, usually in swamps, marshes, slow streams and rivers. Because of this, the nostrils and eyes have evolved to be on top of the head, rather than to the sides, so that the snake can breathe and see prey and predators above water while its large body is kept submerged.
These snakes have a varied diet, from turtles and fish to peccaries, deer, capybaras (the world’s largest rodent), and even jaguars on rare occasions. Anacondas belong to the boa family and use their long, muscular bodies to constrict their prey.
Although ‘anaconda’ is often used to refer to green anacondas, there are actually three other species that are all marginally smaller: the Bolivian anaconda (Eunectes beniensis), dark-spotted anaconda (Eunectes deschauenseei) and the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus). They are all found in South America.
The heaviest venomous snake
The eastern diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus) is a rattlesnake and thought to be the world’s heaviest venomous snake, with a particularly massive 2.56-metre individual tipping the scales at 15 kilograms.
Typically, the eastern diamondback reaches 5.5-6.8 kilograms and 1.5-1.8 metres long, however.
Found in southeastern USA, this snake prefers flatwoods, coastal forests and scrubland habitats. It isn’t often found in wet areas, although it’s a confident swimmer, occasionally seen in swamps and between barrier reefs.
Adult eastern diamondbacks dine on small mammals, such as rabbits and squirrels, and small birds, while the young eat rats and mice. They strike their prey with a venom-filled bite, before letting it crawl away and die, at which point the snake eats it.
The Gaboon viper (Bitis gabonica), is another large snake, but it doesn’t get quite as heavy as the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. A particularly long individual of 1.83 metres did weigh in at 11.34 kilograms, however.
While they aren’t generally as heavy as the eastern diamondback, Gaboon vipers have fangs which are the longest of any snake at 55 millimetres. They also have the highest yield of venom, carrying up to 600 milligrams at a time.