Anaconda teeth are a true oddity in the world of snakes. For starters, depending on who you ask, these teeth aren’t true teeth at all. Yet they sure do look like teeth. And they function a lot like teeth, even though these snakes don’t kill prey by biting it, and can swallow a meal twice their size completely whole. So do Anacondas have teeth or not? And if they are teeth, what purpose do they serve? I’m fascinated by these enormous reptiles, and I’m sure that there is a whole article’s worth of interesting facts in their mouth alone. So here it is!
Anacondas are a type of snake. But it is not just any type of snake – they are boa constrictors. The word boa translates to mean “large serpent.” So we know these snakes are large – more than large. Amazingly, the largest species of anaconda, the green anaconda, can reach up to 30 feet long and weigh up to 500 pounds. Which makes them the second largest snake in the world, after the reticulated python. Smaller but no less formidable species are the:
- Yellow anaconda
- Darkly spotted anaconda
- Bolivian anaconda
All of them are ambush predators and good swimmers. They kill prey by wrapping their body around it and squeezing until their unlucky meal asphyxiates. Job done, this mighty snake can then open its flexible jaws wide enough to swallow the prey whole. But where do their teeth factor into the hunting strategy of these enormous snakes? And what about venom – don’t snakes use venom to hunt?
Do Anacondas Have Teeth?
Yes – they have over up to 100 aglyphous teeth, arranged in four rows at the top and two rows at the bottom. Aglyphous means ‘non-grooved’. This sets them apart from the venomous snakes, which have grooves in their teeth for delivering venom into their prey.
Their teeth are made out of the same tissues as ours: hard enamel on the outside, dentin under that, and a core of soft pulp with a blood supply and nerve endings. Unlike our teeth which are firmly rooted inside our jaw bones though, snake teeth are only relatively loosely attached to the inside face of the jaw bone. This means they are dislodged more easily, but also that they can continuously regrow if lost. Some biologists argue that this weaker kind of attachment means they are not ‘true teeth’ at all. But, it’s a pretty specialized point that not many people are worried about.
More interestingly, since anacondas rely on constriction to kill their prey, what do they need so many teeth for anyway?
How Anacondas Use Their Teeth
Anacondas use their teeth to hold prey in place, whilst they get the rest of their body coiled around them and ready to squeeze. To help with this, the teeth curve backwards into their mouth, so that their tips point towards the back of their throat. That means that if the prey tries to pull itself free, it will only end up more impaled on the teeth. Why is why in the video at the top of this article, the unlucky researcher has to free himself by first pushing his hand deeper into the anaconda’s mouth.
Do Anacondas Have Sharp Teeth?
The anaconda’s teeth do not inject venom but they are still very sharp. So why does a snake need so many different ways to immobilize their intended meal, you might be wondering? It makes more sense when you learn that anacondas will basically try to eat anything they can catch and bite, including
And while anacondas are very effective hunters, their method of biting and constricting their meals can sometimes backfire on them!
Errors Of Judgement
Sometimes anaconda’s teeth can get them into trouble if they underestimate the size of their meal. They can get badly injured if they misjudge the size, strength, tenacity, or defensive capability of their prey. They even sometimes die from their hunting injuries. Similarly, they have been known to die by trying to swallow a large prey meal that is wider than their jaws or body can accommodate.
When a hunting situation goes south, having backwards-facing spiked teeth that grip the prey so effectively is not always an advantage. Their teeth are designed to hold onto the prey and keep it heading in the right direction. Not only do they make it nearly impossible for the victim to pull free, they can make it very hard for the anaconda to let go if it realizes it has bitten off more than it can chew!
Does An Anaconda Have Fangs?
At first glance, it can be genuinely tough to tell the difference between a sharp spiky snake tooth and a true snake fang. However, the type of teeth anacondas have is different to the fangs of venomous snake species. Fangs are teeth specifically adapted to inject venom into prey. And as we’ve seen, anacondas don’t have these.
Fangs are typically quite easy to spot because they are considerably larger and longer than a snake’s other teeth. In an anaconda’s mouth, all of the teeth are uniform, and short. Some venomous snake species have their fangs in the front of the upper jaw. Other species have hinged front fangs or rear jaw fangs. The fangs are linked to a venom gland that gets activated when the snake chomps down on something or chews on a prey.
Venomous snake species use their venom to quickly paralyze and/or poison the prey so the snake can swallow it. But anacondas have a different way to paralyze their prey. Anacondas squeeze the animal with their powerfully muscled bodies even while they begin to swallow it. So anacondas don’t need fangs. Evolution gave these enormously large and strong snakes a different set of equally effective tools to use to hunt with.
Anaconda Teeth – Summary
While anacondas do have lots and lots of aglyphous teeth in both their upper and lower jaws, they only use them to hold their prey in place while they constrict and kill their prey. And while anacondas take a risk every time they hunt, in general this is a very effective hunting strategy.
Have you ever seen a boa constrictor or a water boa like the anaconda? Share your stories in the comments.
More About Amazing Snakes!
- McKelvie, C., et al, “Anaconda: Habits, hunting and diet,” Live Science, 2022.
- Salomies et al. “The developmental origins of heterodonty and acrodonty as revealed by reptile dentitions.” Science Advances. 2021.
- Wynns, S., “Fang-tastic Friends,” National Park Service, 2018.
- Thomas, O., “A Review of Prey Taken by Anacondas (Squamata: Boidae: Eunectes),” Amphibia-Reptilia, 2021.
- Dirksen, L., “Verified after two decades: The fourth anaconda species,” Phys.org, 2022.