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The Serpents of Our Nightmares
Giant Snakes. The serpents of our nightmares. Reaching more than 30 feet long and hiding in the swamps, the trees and the basement.
Like all pythons, the African rock python is non-venomous and kills its prey by constriction. After gripping the prey, the snake coils around it, tightening its coils every time the victim breathes out. Death is thought to be caused by cardiac arrest rather than by asphyxiation or crushing.
The African rock python feeds on a variety of large rodents, monkeys, warthog, antelopes, fruit bats, monitor lizards and even crocodiles in forest areas, and on rats, poultry, dogs and goats in suburban areas. A few cases are also known of this python hunting humans.
Today’s giant snakes are as big as they’ve ever been, and their appetites may have never been bigger.
Over 100 teeth, 500 vertebrae, 1000 ribs, and 10,000 muscles work together to form natures most elegant predator. But what are the limits of these enormous serpents?
How big can they grow, constrict and consume?
Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears.
Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales.
Many species of snakes have skulls with many more joints than their lizard ancestors, enabling them to swallow prey much larger than their heads with their highly mobile jaws.
To accommodate their narrow bodies, snakes' paired organs (such as kidneys) appear one in front of the other instead of side by side, and most have only one functional lung.
Some species retain a pelvic girdle with a pair of vestigial claws on either side of the cloaca. Living snakes are found on every continent except Antarctica and on most islands.
Fifteen families are currently recognized, comprising 456 genera and over 2,900 species. They range in size from the tiny, 10 cm-long thread snake to pythons and anacondas of up to 7.6 metres (25 ft) in length.
The fossil species Titanoboa cerrejonensis was 15 metres (49 ft) long. Snakes are thought to have evolved from either burrowing or aquatic lizards during the mid-Cretaceous period, and the earliest known fossils date to around 112 Ma ago.
The diversity of modern snakes appeared during the Paleocene period (c 66 to 56 Ma ago).
Most species are nonvenomous and those that have venom use it primarily to kill and subdue prey rather than for self-defense. Some possess venom potent enough to cause painful injury or death to humans. Nonvenomous snakes either swallow prey alive or kill by constriction.
The now extinct Titanoboa cerrejonensis snakes found were 12–15 meters (39–49 ft) in length. By comparison, the largest extant snakes are the reticulated python, which measures about 9 meters (30 ft) long, and the anaconda, which measures about 7.5 meters (25 ft) long and is considered the heaviest snake on Earth.
At the other end of the scale, the smallest extant snake is Leptotyphlops carlae, with a length of about 10 centimeters (4 in). Most snakes are fairly small animals, approximately 1 meter (3 feet) in length.
Attacks on humans are very uncommon. Although African rock pythons can easily kill an adult, there are only a few cases in which the victim, in most cases a child, was actually consumed.
On Easter weekend of 2009, Ben Nyaumbe, a farmer, was attacked after stepping on a specimen and was dragged up a tree by the snake, but managed to escape after calling for help on his mobile phone.
The last known case in which a person was eaten occurred in South Africa in 2002, the victim being a 10-year-old child.
It has recently been suggested that all snakes may be venomous to a certain degree, with harmless snakes having weak venom and no fangs.
Most snakes currently labelled “nonvenomous” would still be considered harmless according to this theory, as they either lack a venom delivery method or are incapable of delivering enough to endanger a human.
This theory postulates that snakes may have evolved from a common lizard ancestor that was venomous—and that venomous lizards like the gila monster, beaded lizard, monitor lizards, and the now-extinct mosasaurs may also have derived.
While only a very few species of snakes can swallow a human, the technicality regarding a snake swallowing its prey head first, prevents it from preying on adult human beings.
Quite a few claims have been made about giant snakes swallowing adult humans, although convincing proof has been absent. Scientifically, such a situation seems to be very unlikely.
However, big constrictors shall have no problems swallowing an infant or a small child, a threat that is legitimate and empirically proved.
The only family of snakes that are able to eat an adult human being are constrictors (three pythons and one boa, all non-venomous): Reticulated Python, Green Anaconda, African Rock Python and the Burmese Python.