Anaconda skeleton

UCL Museums Top Ten Objects: Grant Museum

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Case 16. Back, right, of the museum.

This intricate 5m long snake skeleton is unusually displayed wrapped around a branch. The animal lived at London Zoo.

This massive snake arrived as a whole specimen in the 1960s having died at London Zoo. When it reached the Museum a huge amount of work was required to remove the flesh in order to prepare the skeleton. Sadly the skin was in a poor condition and could not be preserved. Due to the size of this snake, much of the preparation work had to be carried out on the flat roof of the Medawar Building at UCL, where the Museum was housed from 1933 to 1997 (though it was evacuated to Wales during WW2).


The specimen if from a green anaconda Eunectes murinus. Adults grow up to 9 m in length, making it the second longest snake in the world behind the Indian reticulated python. It can however, be regarded as the largest snake in the world given its enormous girth – it can reach nearly a quarter of a tonne. It is found in the Amazon rainforest in South America; from as north as Venezuela and Colombia, through Guyana, French Guiana, Brazil and Ecuador, down to eastern Paraguay, northern Bolivia and north-eastern Peru. It is also found on the island of Trinidad.

It is called the green anaconda because of its coloration. The pattern on the body camouflages it in its natural habitat. The head is beautiful, with streaks of colour shooting backwards from the rear of each eye. The colours range from green to orange, always underlined by a black stripe. The largest individuals of the green anaconda are likely to be female as males are usually around five times lighter than females. It is also known as the water boa as, although it can move on land, its enormous size makes it slow. However, it is well adapted for life in the water with eyes and nostrils positioned on top of the skull meaning it can lie almost fully submerged, watching for its prey.

Anacondas are not venomous but instead hunt by wrapping its muscular body around its prey causing suffocation.

UPDATE TO THIS STORY November 2012. When is an anaconda not an anaconda? After visiting this page a member of the public got in touch to suggest that from these photos the snake in question looks like and African rock python (Python sebae) and not like an anaconda at all. Anacondas have a spotted pattern along their backs, the pattern in this specimen especially the head make it almost a certainty that this snake is an African rock python. Following this query, the curator managed to contact some of the technicians in the photographs who maintain that they were told by London Zoo that it was an anaconda and until now this was never questioned. London Zoo have been contacted to see if records exist there as to the true identity of this iconic specimen.