What It's Like To Be Swallowed Whole By An Anaconda

Admit it, you’ve thought about being swallowed by an anaconda. The fear of being eaten alive by a massive snake with little to no guilt over ending a life is something that haunts everyone who has ever watched a pet snake eat a mouse, or who caught even a glance of the Jennifer Lopez-starring creature feature Anaconda. But what is being eaten by an anaconda like? Is it as bad as it seems? How long does it take, and can you wrestle your way out of the snake’s famous jaws? Wipe the nervous sweat from your brow because no longer do you have to experience death by anaconda in the first person to understand the nuts and bolts of such a terrible death.

How do anacondas kill you? With a gun? Surely not. Is the myth about their squeezing the life out of you true? Or has all of that been mythologized by an anti-snake league? While non-jungle faring people may have some cursory knowledge on how to die in the mouth of a large snake, there are more moving parts than anyone can imagine. 

  • They Let You Kill Yourself

    They Let You Kill Yourself
    Photo: Daniel10ortegaven / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The one thing that everyone knows (or thinks they know) about being eaten by an anaconda is that the giant snakes constrict your body until you finally give up, but it isn't actually squeezing the life out of you. As a python wraps itself around its prey, it's not squeezing the air out of it but waiting for it to exhale and then tightening the coil, gradually restricting the prey's breath.

    Anaconda's can't actually reach in and pull the breath out of your body, but they're the most patient predators on earth and don't mind letting you choose how long you want to put off the pain of your final terrible moments. 

  • Dying Could Take A Long Time

    Pythons can sense the heartbeat, so they know when their prey stops breathing. They can conserve their energy for the next stage - the swallow. Swallowing a live animal can be risky, you know this if you've ever put a mouse in your mouth (why did you do that?!) and since an anaconda is much bigger than you, it doesn't have to do a lot of fighting to trap you in its jaws and choke you out.

    Once anacondas coil around you, they leave most of the hard work up to you. For instance, how often do you breathe if you'll be constricted a bit closer to death with every breath? Should you just give up and die so you can end the existential and tangible pain of life? Or do you fight and probably make things worse? 

  • You Take A Few Weeks To Digest

    If you do get eaten you won't have to deal with a roommate in the snake's stomach because they can only eat one thing at a time. Snake expert Bryan Fry, a professor at the University of Queensland, has spent a lifetime studying these apex predators, and it's likely that he's actually watched an anaconda digest its prey. Fry says, "The python in Queensland will bloat further over the next few days as it digests.

    In two weeks it will start to slim down and in three weeks it will defecate a calcium ball, having absorbed the fat and protein, but not the excess minerals." At least you'll have some alone time. 

  • You Get Locked in Its Jaws

    You Get Locked in Its Jaws
    Photo: JanRehschuh / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The green anaconda has a special set of jaws that can unhinge in order to better capture its prey, and once an anaconda sights its target, it will grab the animal in its jaws, locking it in with its teeth. This is undoubtedly a painful experience. Anacondas are by no means chewing on anyone, but those teeth have to hurt, and while the snakes aren't venomous, they do bite into their prey with intense pressure that can crack bones. 

  • The Jaw Walk

    If mother nature is two things, she's scary and gross. No fact underscores that idea like the anaconda's "jaw walk." When the prey is caught, the snake "walks" its jaws over its prey, working the animal down its esophagus. Like other snakes, the anaconda's lower jaws are not fused together, allowing them to move independently of each other and stretch out, working around prey that is much larger than the anaconda's head.

    If you've ever watched someone win a hot dog eating contest then you know what this abomination looks like. Or, if that's not enough of a gross visual, imagine someone eating a never ending Twizzler without using their hands. 

  • Enzymes Digest You Fully

    Enzymes Digest You Fully
    Photo: Fernando Flores / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    After the anaconda eats you, its body passes you through multiple areas where you'll be broken down and turned into snake fuel. All of the enzymes and gastric juices slowly digest the prey, which passes into the small intestine. Then the liver and pancreas excrete and secrete powerful enzymes into the small intestine to aid the digestive process.

    The nutrients from the meal are absorbed in the small intestine.