PORTLAND, Maine — The scientist who identified the massive snakeskin found in Westbrook as belonging to an anaconda said further tests reveal it’s a species that can grow to be 30 feet long.
“The skin is from a green anaconda, not a yellow anaconda,” said John Placyk, a University of Texas at Tyler herpetologist who ran genetic testing on the snakeskin for the Westbrook Police Department. “So [it’s] the bigger species — the one that gets 20 to 30 feet.”
The green anaconda is less likely to survive winter than a yellow anaconda, he said.
“Once temps start floating around 50 [degrees] for a sustained period, it will most likely die in short order,” according to Placyk, who said his testing of the skin showed “a 100 percent match for an anaconda.”
The skin was found on the bank of the Presumpscot River earlier this month after a summer of snake sightings in Westbrook. In late June, city police received a report of a snake “as long as a truck [with] a head the size of a small ball” slithering near a playground in Riverbank Park. A few days later two police officers said they saw a giant snake, at least 10 feet long, eating what appeared to be a beaver along the riverbank.
There is no way to say definitively that the anaconda skin — which is 12 feet, 1 inch long and 4 inches in diameter at its widest point, according to police — belongs to the snake spotted earlier in the summer.
“We’re as surprised as anybody, but again we don’t know if that was planted there or if there’s actually a snake,” Westbrook police Cpt. Sean Lally said. “The fact that the animal has been sighted near the water sort of bolsters the theory that it’s an anaconda, but who knows.”
Based on earlier descriptions of the snake before the skin was found, Derek Yorks, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, had speculated it could be a Burmese python or a boa constrictor.
It is illegal to own an anaconda in Maine and no permits for them have been issued to zoos in the state, according to an Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokesperson. It is not illegal to purchase an anaconda snakeskin.
Placyk was initially skeptical of reports of a snake in Maine eating an animal as large as a beaver. But the herpetologist said this would be entirely possible for an anaconda.
He added that although anacondas are not venomous, one between 10 and 12 feet might also pose a risk to small dogs, cats and even very young children. Anacondas kill by wrapping themselves around their prey and squeezing.
“Based on the skin, it’s not large enough to kill a human,” Placyk said. “If it’s hanging out by that river, anyone who has houses in that area that has small pets wants to make sure they keep an eye on their small pets, and if they have children probably under the age of 2, I wouldn’t leave them unattended.”
Anacondas are the largest species of snake in the world by weight, though pythons can grow to be longer. Placyk stressed that the depictions of them in movies are wildly unrealistic. He said it is unlikely one would attack a child and that an anaconda’s first response to humans is to flee.
If there is an anaconda in Maine, the scientist counseled people to be vigilant but also said it will certainly not survive the winter.
The Westbrook Police Department can be reached at 854-0644.