Python vs anaconda: what’s the difference?

Python vs anaconda: what's the difference

Python vs anaconda: what’s the difference between these two heavyweights?

No, we’re not talking coding; we’re talking about constrictors.

Pythons and anacondas are some of the world’s largest snakes. They’re both non-venomous and kill via constriction.

With all the similarities, many people mix up the sizeable serpents. Yet the two also differ in many ways and are in separate families. These snakes don’t even live in the same regions.

Whatever their similarities and differences, anacondas and pythons are fascinating reptiles with impressive reputations. Read on to learn the difference between pythons and anacondas.

Anaconda and Python Species

Coiled up green anaconda in the Amazon rainforest of Peru

While many people simply use the terms “anaconda” and “python”, both families contain several different species.

Anacondas are in the boa family, Boidae. There are four recognised species, making up the genus Eunectes.

The largest, most common, and best-known anaconda species is the green anaconda.

Pythons are more diverse. There are currently 42 recognised species in the family Pythonidae.

Python vs Anaconda Distribution

One main difference between pythons and anacondas is that they live in different places. In fact, they don’t even live on the same continents!

All four anaconda species live in South America. Pythons, on the other hand, are found in Africa, Asia, and Australia. (Though the Burmese python now breeds in Florida, a result of escaped or released pets.)

African Pythons

African rock python resting under bushes, Mashatu Game Reserve

Of the many python species, only a handful live in Africa.

The largest of these – and Africa’s largest snake – is the African rock python. This giant has a wide distribution throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa.

These snakes are covered in a range of brown, green, or yellow blotches, and have a distinctive triangular head.

There are two subspecies, with one living in Central and West Africa, and the other in Southern Africa.

The northern subspecies is the larger of the two and can grow to over six metres in length! (Most are between three and four metres.)

It’s also a solidly built snake, with most weighing around 50 kg, and some rare specimens almost double that.

African rock pythons have a fearsome reputation in much of their range, though it’s largely undeserved. They’re often killed for bushmeat, leather, or simply out of fear.

Ball python

Ball python climbing on tree

Another well-known African python is the ball python. This species is perhaps best known from captivity, as it’s the most popular pet snake.

The ball python is so popular partially due to its wide range of patterns and colours.

These “colour morphs” are the result of selective breeding, although mutations do cause unusual patterns in the wild. Most wild ball pythons are black or brown.

It’s also Africa’s smallest python, coming in at under two metres in length. In the wild, ball pythons live in western and central Africa, and as far east as Uganda.

The ball python gets its name from its habit of curling into a ball when threatened.

Anaconda species

Yellow anaconda on forest floor

The species most people think of when they hear the term “anaconda” is the green anaconda.

These jungle-dwelling giants live in much of South America, as far south as Paraguay. They’re nocturnal and largely aquatic, preferring marshes, swamps, and streams.

Green anacondas are strong swimmers and stealthy ambush predators. With their eyes and nasal openings on top of their heads, they can lie in wait for their victims while almost entirely submerged.

Yellow anacondas are a similar species, found in wetland habitats in and around the Paraguay River.

They’re smaller than their green relatives, but just as adept in the water – as you’d expect from a family of snakes called “water boas”.

Rounding out the anaconda species are the Bolivian anaconda and the dark-spotted anaconda.

Python vs Anaconda: Which is Larger?

Is an anaconda bigger than a python? It depends on what you mean by “bigger”. It’s also difficult to reliably measure live snakes.

The longest snake in the world is the reticulated python. This Asian species regularly exceeds 6 metres in length.

While there are tall tales of snakes exceeding 10 metres, the longest officially measured individual was 7.67 metres.

However, the world’s heaviest snake is the green anaconda. Despite a shorter average length, the anaconda is much more heavily built. The heaviest anaconda ever recorded was reportedly 227 kg (500 lbs)!

It’s estimated that a 5.2 metre anaconda and a 7.3 metre reticulated python would weigh the same.

The world’s largest snakes include several other pythons. Burmese pythons and African rock pythons round out the top four.

Anaconda vs Python Diet

Like all snakes, anacondas and pythons are carnivores. The snakes’ diets obviously differ based on their size, where they live, and what’s available.

Let’s narrow it down and compare the green anaconda and African rock python’s diets.

African rock python diet

Large African rock python swallows impala head first

What do African rock pythons eat?

Anything they can get their hands on. (Metaphorically, of course…)

In other words, these pythons aren’t picky. The snake’s diet includes rodents, monkeys, antelope, and reptiles. In areas with livestock, they’ll happily eat poultry and goats.

One rock python was even filmed eating a 70 kg spotted hyena!

Now that’s no laughing matter.

Green anaconda diet

Green anaconda eating wood stork, Los Llanos, Venezuela

Anacondas are much more aquatic than pythons. As a result, they often prefer prey that lives in and around the water, such as fish, amphibians, and reptiles. Anacondas also eat various mammals and birds.

Fully-grown green anacondas can tackle substantial prey like tapirs, capybaras, and caiman.

Occasionally, these colossal constrictors even turn to cannibalism. Due to dramatic sexual dimorphism (females are a lot larger than males), it’s usually a big female eating a smaller male.

How do anacondas and pythons kill prey?

One common misconception is that constrictors kill their prey via suffocation. Recent studies have suggested that they actually cut off the blood supply, killing prey due to cardiac arrest.

That’s one tight squeeze.

Man-Eating Snakes?

African rock python and Pokot tribe, Kenya

Could a python eat a human? Could an anaconda?

With both snakes reaching such large sizes, many people naturally wonder whether a large constrictor could kill and eat a person.

Humans aren’t any snake’s regular prey, so attacks are rare. They also tend to eat prey head first, and our wide shoulders would make this difficult.

Yet, there have been a few incidents.

Man-eating anacondas and pythons

There are many stories of green anacondas eating people, but none have been verified. Still, it’s plausible, as some of their prey weighs as much as a small adult.

Some pythons, on the other hand, are proven man-eaters.

Reticulated pythons killed and ate people in two separate incidents in Indonesia, within the last few years.

African rock pythons have also been involved in multiple incidents. In 2002, a wild python reportedly killed a 10-year-old boy in Durban, South Africa, while a captive python escaped and killed two young boys in Canada, in 2013.

So yes, the largest pythons and anacondas could eat a (small) human, but it’s still a rare and unlikely event.

Python vs Anaconda: Who Would Win in a Fight?

We’ve already established that these snakes wouldn’t meet in the wild.

But, in the unlikely scenario of a python vs anaconda showdown, who would win?

It’s only fair to use the largest species from each family, which means it’s the reticulated python vs green anaconda.

As mentioned earlier, the largest pythons are longer, while the largest anacondas are thicker and heavier. There’s plenty of size overlap, though.

Battle of the constrictors

Neither species uses venom, so the only way to win would be via constriction. As the thicker species, the green anaconda should be able to give a tighter squeeze.

Reticulated pythons don’t eat prey anywhere near as large as anacondas – there would be no way to consume a creature longer than their own body! Anacondas don’t usually eat prey more than 50% of their own mass, either.

So, the only real question is whether the anaconda is strong enough to successfully constrict its foe.

Unless an unscrupulous private collector sets up this showdown, we’ll never know. The anaconda probably wouldn’t lose, but it’s hard to say whether it could win.

Python vs Anaconda Conservation Status

Wild green anaconda in the Amazon Rainforest, Peru

While many people think of snakes as scary, they have much more to fear from us than vice versa.

Ball pythons are also a victim of their popularity. Because of their desirability as pets, they’re often poached for the pet trade.

Coupled with hunting for its skin, meat, and/or medicine, this species is now classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

African rock pythons are also listed as Near Threatened. Whether it’s because of fear, bushmeat, or leather, they’re often killed on sight.

All four anaconda species are listed as Least Concern, perhaps because many live away from human habitation in marshes and swamps. Yet loss of rainforest habitat is still a concern in the long term.

Anaconda vs Python Facts

Hopefully, you now know the difference between a python and an anaconda. Both snake families are filled with intriguing animals, perfectly adapted to their environments.

If you’re searching for snakes in Africa, you can scratch anacondas off the list. Pythons are certainly possible, though – Central Africa for ball pythons and African rock pythons, or a Southern African safari for the rock python’s southern subspecies.

Despite many scary stories, these large snakes tend to avoid humans. Compared to other large predators, they’re far less likely to attack.

If you’re not such a snake fan, don’t let a few incidents scare you off planning the trip of a lifetime. You’re unlikely to encounter these serpents unless you’re looking for them!

2 thoughts on “Python vs anaconda: what’s the difference?”

  1. I find your posts so interesting. They’re very educative. Thank you very much. Is there a way i could receive them via email?

    1. Hi again Allen,

      Glad you find them helpful! 🙂

      Sure, the best way to subscribe via email is to look for the subscribe box inside posts.

      Alternatively, you can do it via the bottom of the homepage (under “Your Weekly Dose of Wild Africa”):

      Have a blessed Sunday,


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