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What size snake can swallow a human?

Snakes are able to swallow prey much larger than their head size due to their extremely flexible jaws. Their lower jaw is divided into two halves that are connected with stretchy ligaments, allowing them to separate and spread incredibly wide. This, combined with backwards-facing teeth and strong stomach muscles, enables snakes to swallow prey whole that is considerably larger than their normal girth. But just how large of an animal can snakes swallow? Can the biggest snakes swallow a full-grown human?

How Do Snakes Swallow Such Large Prey?

Snakes are able to consume animals that are significantly wider than their own head size due to their flexible jaws. Here’s how they do it:

– Jaws Unhinge – A snake’s lower jaw is comprised of two halves connected by stretchy ligaments, allowing the halves to separate and spread apart. This enables the mouth to open incredibly wide.

– Teeth Curve Backwards – While many snake species have small, needle-like teeth angled towards the throat, these teeth anchor prey and aid in swallowing rather than biting or chewing.

– Powerful Muscles – Snakes have strong muscles lining their stomach and throat that contract in waves, essentially “walking” the prey down into the digestive tract.

– Expandable Midsection – Since snakes have a very flexible spine, their stomach area can expand significantly to accommodate large meals.

– Slow Digestion – Snakes take their time digesting big meals, sometimes taking days or weeks to fully break down food. This prevents rupturing or injury during the swallowing process.

These adaptations allow snakes to consume prey significantly larger around than their head, sometimes double the size or more. Next, let’s look at how big the largest snake species are to determine if they could swallow an adult human.

How Big Are the Largest Snake Species?

The longest snakes in the world are either pythons or anacondas, both non-venomous constrictors native to warm tropical environments. Here are some measurements for the biggest snake species:

Reticulated Python

– Native to: Southeast Asia
– Average Length: 20 feet
– Maximum Confirmed Length: 33 feet

Reticulated pythons are considered the longest snakes in the world. The largest individual ever reliably measured was a female captured in Sulawesi, Indonesia in 1912 that reached a whopping 25 feet 2 inches long and weighed over 300 pounds.

More recently, a reticulated python found in Indonesia in 2003 claimed to be 49 feet long went viral online. However, this measurement was never officially verified and is considered unreliable by herpetologists.

Green Anaconda

– Native to: South America
– Average Length: 20 feet
– Maximum Confirmed Length: 30 feet

The green anaconda is the heaviest snake species, capable of reaching over 500 pounds. In 1959, a female specimen was measured at 29 feet long and weighed a staggering 550 pounds after eating a tapir.

Reports of even larger anacondas exist, but none have been scientifically documented. Claimed sightings of 100+ foot anacondas remain mythical and unfounded.

Burmese Python

– Native to: Southeast Asia
– Average Length: 15 feet
– Maximum Confirmed Length: 26 feet

While Burmese pythons typically don’t reach the mammoth proportions of reticulated pythons, they are incredibly strong constrictors capable of growing over 20 feet long. The largest measured Burmese python was a female kept in captivity in Kansas City, Missouri that reached 25 feet 2 inches long.

African Rock Python

– Native to: Sub-Saharan Africa
– Average Length: 12 feet
– Maximum Confirmed Length: 25 feet

Rock pythons are the largest snakes native to Africa, with exceptionally big specimens reaching sizes comparable to some reticulated pythons. A rock python measured in The Gambia in the 1960s reached a verified length of 25 feet.

Can the Largest Snakes Swallow an Adult Human?

Now that we know how large the biggest snakes get, could they actually swallow an adult human being? Let’s consider some key factors:

Snake Girth – When snakes swallow large prey, their midsection expands significantly. The reticulated python that ate the Indonesian tapir was documented to have a girth of 44 inches after consuming it.

Prey Size Limit – Snakes are limited in how large of a prey animal they can swallow relative to their own size. Generally, snakes can only swallow prey 1.5-2 times their own diameter.

Average Adult Shoulders – The widest part of an average adult human is the shoulder width, which is approximately 16-18 inches across for women and 18-21 inches for men.

World’s Largest Snake – The longest snake ever reliably measured was a 33 foot reticulated python, which would have a maximum potential girth of around 40-45 inches when fully expanded.

Based on these factors, even the world’s longest snakes would not be able to swallow an adult human. Their maximum potential girth is not big enough to accommodate the average adult shoulder width.

While very small adults or children could potentially be swallowed by the biggest snakes, it is physically impossible for the largest snakes to swallow a fully-grown average-sized person.

Known Cases of Humans Being Swallowed by Snakes

While adult humans are too large to be swallowed by even the biggest snakes, there are some true historical cases of very large snakes consuming human children:

1912 New Guinea Rainforest

In 1912, a young child was reportedly swallowed whole by a large snake in New Guinea, likely a reticulated python. The incident was described by zoologist Alan Rabinowitz in a 1997 book.

1923 Sulawesi, Indonesia

A reticulated python in Sulawesi, Indonesia killed and consumed a 3-year-old child in 1923. A Dutch colonial administrator documented the incident at the time.

2017 Sulawesi, Indonesia

In March 2017, a 25 foot reticulated python attacked a 25-year-old farmer named Akbar in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Villagers witnessed the python swallow Akbar whole. Over 100 people searched for the snake, which was found with a large bulge confirming it had eaten the man.

2018 Jakarta, Indonesia

In 2018, a 23 foot reticulated python swallowed a 54-year-old woman named Wa Tiba whole in Muna island, Indonesia. The snake was found near Tiba’s belongings and garden tools with a massively swollen midsection.

2019 Sumatra, Indonesia

In 2019, an 8-year-old boy playing near his house in Sumatra was attacked and swallowed whole by a 23 foot reticulated python. Over 100 people launched a search and found the snake with the child still inside its belly.

While many python attacks on humans likely go unreported, these cases confirm that very large pythons and anacondas are capable of consuming human children, pets, and even small adults. However, most adult humans are simply too big to be swallowed whole.

Average Sizes of Other Large Constricting Snakes

Aside from reticulated pythons and green anacondas, there are several other big snake species with the potential to eat humans, although even average-sized adults would likely be too large:

Snake Average Length Maximum Length
African Rock Python 12 feet 25 feet
Indian Python 12 feet 20 feet
Burmese Python 15 feet 26 feet
Boa Constrictor 10 feet 18 feet
Amethystine Python 16 feet 20 feet

While these large constrictors don’t quite measure up to the lengths of reticulated pythons, they are theoretically capable of consuming human children and small adults in isolated cases. Attacks on humans are rare, but possible from the biggest individuals.

Snake Species Incapable of Swallowing Humans

The vast majority of snakes are physically unable to consume a human, even a small child. Here are some snake species that could not swallow a person:

– Garter snakes – Max length: 4 feet
– Corn snakes – Max length: 6 feet
– Kingsnakes – Max length: 8 feet
– Rat snakes – Max length: 7 feet
– Gopher snakes – Max length: 8 feet
– Racers – Max length: 6 feet
– Keelbacks – Max length: 4 feet
– Water snakes – Max length: 5 feet
– Grass snakes – Max length: 5 feet

Essentially all small to medium sized colubrid snakes lack both the size and expansive jaws necessary to consume a human of any size. Only the very largest constricting snakes like pythons and boas can potentially swallow a person.

Snake Species Considered Dangerous to Humans

The snake species considered most dangerous to humans are those capable of killing a person quickly with highly potent venom, including:

Snake Venom Toxicity Average Length Maximum Length
Inland Taipan Most toxic venom in the world 6 feet 8 feet
Eastern Brown Snake 2nd most toxic venom 5 feet 7 feet
Black Mamba Extremely toxic neurotoxin 8 feet 14 feet
Coastal Taipan Extremely toxic neurotoxin 6 feet 8 feet
Many-Banded Krait Toxic nerve damaging neurotoxin 5 feet 6 feet

These species can potentially kill adult humans very quickly with just a small amount of venom, but they lack the size and gape necessary to swallow a person whole. The most toxic snakes are not physically capable of this feat.


In summary, it is physically impossible for even the largest snake species like reticulated pythons to swallow an average-sized adult human. Their maximum expandable girth is not big enough to accommodate most adult shoulder widths. However, tragically there are rare documented cases of very large pythons and anacondas swallowing human children, small women, and even individual small adult men. While such events are exceptionally rare, they are still a possibility in remote jungle areas where humans live alongside these giant serpents. The vast majority of snakes lack the size and jaw flexibility to consume a human, however, making most snake species absolutely incapable of swallowing a person. So while Hollywood movies love to depict giant snakes gulping people down, the reality is that only the most massive constricting snakes can swallow a human, and even then adults are far too big to be consumed.