Green anaconda
November 10, 2014

Snake expert: Discovery ‘Eaten Alive’ special is appalling

I wish Discovery Channel would end the pseudo-scientific, sensationalistic shows like Eaten Alive. Anacondas are amazing animals and certainly worthy of our attention, interest and conservation without having to trick them into trying to eat a human—something that is not known to be a part of their natural diet.

So, with that in mind, let’s assess the reality of the show by considering the facts about green anacondas.

1. The green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is one of the world’s largest snakes, but rarely exceeds 22 feet in the wild. Only the females attain these large lengths. Males typically average 2.3 meters (6-7 feet). So if the show actually filmed a man being swallowed by an anaconda, it would definitely have been a female of breeding size.

2. When feeding large captive snakes, the rule of thumb is to feed them one prey item of comparable girth to the thickest part of the snake’s body. Typical prey size is between 20-30% of the snake’s body mass. The shoulders of humans do not equate to those of quadrupeds that these large constrictors normally consume (rodents, deer, peccaries, capybaras, tapirs, turtles, aquatic reptiles like caiman, and the occasional jaguar). Thus, the act of trying to swallow an adult human past the shoulders (our widest point structurally) would not likely progress well and the snake would simply give up.

3. Anacondas are constrictors, and as such definitely constrict their prey before eating it. Sometimes, when they have very small, harmless meals like newborn rodent pups—or in the rare case they find something recently dead—they will just go ahead and swallow; but in this case, with such a large living, breathing human meal, DEFINITELY NOT. They are very strong snakes and wrap their coils around the prey animal and then wrap a little tighter each time the animal exhales. So it is not the actual act of being swallowed that would be deadly to a human, but the act of being captured and constricted. Sadly, if the show crew forcefully stopped the snake from constricting Mr. Rosolie, it would have very likely caused harm to the animal.

4. On the other hand, if the man remained perfectly still and was not constricted, the large, recurved (or backwards-facing) teeth of the anaconda, and the intense pressure, would have inflicted significant pain as the snake began to swallow.

5. With such a large prey item, the snake would have begun to swallow him head first. It is difficult to imagine someone remaining perfectly still in such a scenario. Any movement from the human would certainly trigger the anaconda to wrap and constrict until the prey was once again quiet and subdued.

6. If the human is successfully swallowed, next comes the extraction process. While snakes do regurgitate prey on occasion, it is a costly process to the animal and can be quite damaging. And if this snake did not regurgitate (as was anticipated), the human was pulled out by a cord attached to the snake-proof suit. This process most likely caused harm to the snake.

Looking at all of this, and assuming the snake and human made it through unharmed (which is a stretch, no pun intended), it leaves me wondering: What exactly was the point of being “eaten alive” by a snake?

It adds nothing to our existing knowledge of the anaconda diet, anatomy or consumption/digestion processes. It’s simply a contrived situation that allows Discovery Channel to improve its ratings through hatred, fear and ignorance—all the while most likely hurting an animal.

I guess if there’s one thing to take away from this: The special does give us further insight into the behavior, ethics and stupidity of Homo sapiens.

Lisa Powers is a snake conservationist and advocate from Nashville, TN. She volunteers her herpetological expertise for Project Noah, I.F.R.O.G.S. and the Tennessee Herpetological Society, as well as runs her own herpetological consulting and photography businesses.


Feature Image: Thinkstock