You wake in a cold sweat realizing that the snake just missed it's strike. Had it succeeded, you may have become its dinner. Those with ophidiophobia and those that experience this dream may wonder if snakes can eat people. For most of us that fear is relegated to dreamland. There are some that do have cause to worry and it is a worry that is moving into our neighborhoods. Can snakes eat people? The simple answer is, in some cases, yes.
There are two types of snakes when it comes to consuming prey items. Constrictors are heavy bodied, lay in wait predators that kill by constriction (wrapping its coils around its prey and tightening those coils with each breath the prey takes in). The other group is broken down into vipers, pit vipers, and elapids. These species use venoms to predigest, maim, or kill their prey before they ever really get to it. It is fairly commonly known that snakes swallow food items much larger than their head. A snake's jaw literally can dislocate and separate to allow larger prey items to be consumed. The Eastern diamondback rattlesnake is the largest venomous snake in the United States. Larger specimens can have a head as large as a man's hand but can they swallow a man? While there are indeed some rather large venomous species, there aren't any that have the body capacity to consume and digest a human. Our focus will be on the constrictors.
Having worked with some pretty big snakes myself, I'm aware of some harsh realities. If the snake is large enough it can eat people. Snakes eat people in native areas where the snakes themselves are abundant and man is the minority. This is a reality that we are having to come to grips with and prepare for in the future.
The reticulated python is the longest recorded snake, getting up to 28ft in length. The green anaconda is the heaviest in weight recorded. Anacondas can be upwards of 500lbs. I have personally worked with an anaconda that was as big around as a car tire and weighed 486lbs. An animal of this size has a very large head even for a snake. If a snake swallows its prey by separating its jaws, imagine if the jaws could open just that much wider. The shoulders of an average adult is about 2ft. in width. A successful meal for a snake is swallowed head first. The snake will continue to work its jaws around the prey once the head is consumed. If a snake can manipulate its jaws around the shoulders of a human than it can be successfully swallowed. Most big snakes do not hunt human prey and can eat too much. Some meals are simply too big.
The thing to remember here is that while adults don't make the best meals for snakes, smaller people are at risk. Our pet trade is increasing the likelihood of something tragic like this happening. Florida state is becoming a new, comfortable home for thrown away python pets. Having a Burmese python as a pet is a great idea as long as they stay hatchling size. A Burmese python requires adequate housing and that means it needs to be able to handle its adult size. The hard fact is that ,yes, in some cases snakes eat people. It isn't likely to happen but if we don't monitor our pet trade, we can expect a growing problem, literally.