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How Much of ‘Anaconda’ is Based in Fact?

We look at what’s fact and what’s fantasy about the giant snake movie.
Columbia Pictures
By  · Published on December 10th, 2014

Recently, the Discovery Channel aired a special called Eaten Alive, which featured naturalist Paul Rosolie making an attempt to be eaten alive by a full-grown anaconda. After plodding through most of the show, Rosolie manages to entice an anaconda to prey on him after he smeared himself with pig’s blood and dressed in a protective suit with a lifeline attached to a nearby tent. Only minutes after the giant snake took the Carrie-esque bait, Rosolie used his safe word, claiming the anaconda’s coils were squeezing him so hard that he feared his arm would break.

Forgetting that anacondas are constrictors, preferring to kill their food by crushing and suffocating before swallowing, Rosolie barely got the top of his head wet with snake saliva before his team tore the snake off of him and fled for safety.

While the show disappointed many fans hoping to see a man eaten alive by a snake, I decided to turn to the utmost authority on killer snakes available: the Oscar-worthy 1997 jungle horror movie Anaconda.

However, watching the movie again, I realized there might be some things not quite right with it. And that got me thinking: Is there actually anything in Anaconda that is even remotely true?

The Answer: Yes, but it’s also full of a whole lotta snake oil.

It should be reassuring to know that a movie of such unparalleled cinematic integrity as Anaconda is not entirely full of crap. I’m tempted to quote a famous cliche about a broken clock, but let’s instead look at the truth behind the epic adventure of the film.

First of all, the very general information about anacondas is correct. If you are referring to the green anaconda in the Amazon Basin, they are one of the world’s largest snakes. By sheer bulk, they are considered the largest, but the slimmer reticulated python is actually recorded as slightly longer. (Anacondas are not the largest snakes ever to slither on Earth, however. Fossils of Titanoboa have been uncovered suggesting a length of 43 feet.)

Also, accurate (somewhat) in the film is the fact that anacondas are not poisonous. They are constrictors, which means they capture their prey and wrap themselves around it, squeezing the life out. Their prey dies from crushing and suffocation, and then the snake consumes it by opening its jaw enough to swallow the food whole. As one of the true kings of the jungle, the anaconda will eat pretty much anything it can catch, which can include birds, small mammals, wild pigs, deer, capybaras, and even jaguar, which we see in the film. (However, the snake’s constricting probably won’t result in popping the jaguar’s eye out of its socket.)

Anacondas – and many snakes in general – have been known to regurgitate their food, sometimes mostly undigested. However, unlike the opening titles of the film — which suggest that anacondas do this on a regular basis so they can experience the thrill of the kill again – there is a different reason. More on that later.

Because of their bulk, anacondas spend a lot of time in the water and are adept swimmers, even being able to swim effectively with a huge food baby from a recent feeding. So, probably one of the more surprising elements of the film that is true is the shot of the snake swimming with Owen Wilson stuffed down in its throat.

Finally, the entire reason the documentary crew in Anaconda is on the Amazon River in the first place is to find the lost Shirishama tribe. While that tribe is entirely fabricated, the concept of tribal cultures worshipping snakes is not. In fact, snake worship is quite common in various cultures, along with snake imagery in everything from the Garden of Eden and snake-handling Christians to the Mound Builders of the Ohio Valley and a South Seas tribe that worships Prince Philip.

That’s all fine and dandy, but…

What about all the cool stuff we see in the movie?

Most of the action, thrills, and sensational sequences of the film are utter nonsense. First of all, while anacondas are extremely long, the longest one measured was only 33 feet. That’s not exactly tiny. It’s actually taller than most of the movie screens the film was originally projected onto. However, it’s a far cry from the 40-foot size purported during the opening crawl of the film. Of course, there are anecdotal stories of anacondas reaching lengths of 50 feet, but those are unreliable due to the perspective of the coiled snake.

Also, it’s not impossible for them to eat a human being, but because anacondas live deep in the Amazon jungle, they are relatively far from most populated areas and rarely encounter humans. There are some confirmed cases of anaconda attacks on people, but for the most part, it doesn’t happen in any way close to what is presented in the film.

Even if an anaconda were to capture and eat a human being, the movie would be over. Like all snakes, anacondas have an incredibly primitive digestive system, and it takes a long time for their prey to digest. Anacondas can swim after eating, but the food in their system makes them extremely cumbersome on land. Like most predators, once an anaconda has consumed its prey, it will find a quiet spot to digest it. In the case of a human-sized animal, days or weeks may pass before the snake is ready to feed again. They’re pretty much incapacitated – especially on land – after eating a large meal. They certainly don’t swing through the air with a belly full of Jon Voight in order to puke it up in front of Jennifer Lopez for dramatic effect.

And no, they don’t puke up their food in order to get more kicks by killing again like a villain in a bad biker movie. While snakes regurgitating is not uncommon, it’s not something healthy snakes do on a regular basis. Generally, snakes will only regurgitate if they feel threatened. Getting rid of the food will increase their mobility so they can flee something dangerous.

If all that snake stuff is b.s….

Can we believe anything from this movie?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but much of this movie is about as authentic as Jon Voight’s Paraguayan snake-hunter accent. (It’s fake?!?!) However, like the snake tales in this film, there are other creatures that are at least potentially dangerous.

First is the wasp that Serone (Voight) dispatches Dr. Cale (Eric Stoltz) with. The Amazon River Basin is filled with thousands of species of insects, which includes some pretty dangerous species of wasp. However, this scene doesn’t quite work out because the wasp that is dug out of Cale’s windpipe is frickin’ enormous, as the size of a human thumb. It’s later stated that Serone sabotaged Cale’s Scuba gear by hiding that wasp in there. However, the wasp is so large that it would hardly be able to dig into the Scuba regulator and hide for even the small amount of time Cale spends underwater.

Like the leaping snake, this is fantasy. Curse you, Anaconda for making me believe!

And finally, there’s the nasty creature discussed called the candiru. This nasty little fish allegedly swims up a person’s urethra, supposedly if they’re peeing in the water, and secures itself to the flesh with a batch of spines.

Stories of the candiru can be found throughout the Amazon and pop culture as well. The fish was referenced in Peter Berg’s The Rundown as well as an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. However, many of the stories of the candiru tend to be just stories, but the first documented case of one swimming up a man’s urethra happened in 1997, which is when Anaconda came out. In reality, the candiru’s threat is the brutal Brazilian version of the red dye in the pool urban legend to keep people from peeing in public swimming areas. (Seriously, people. Do you really need to be scared into not peeing in the pool?)

Anaconda is officially debunked. Consider your childhood ruined.

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