Urban Legend: How to Survive an Anaconda Attack

Netlore Archive: Don't trust this advice

Green anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
Mark Carwardine / Getty Images

The viral text quoted below purports to share instructions from a U.S. government Peace Corps manual on what to do if an anaconda or python attacks you in the wild. However, research has not found that this was ever published as such, and it seems to be poor (but humorous) advice.

  • Description: Viral joke
  • Circulating since: approximately 1998
  • Status: False

The example is provided for you to compare with any similar lists you receive by email, see on social media, or see reproduced on websites and in online forums.


Anaconda Attack
The following is from the US Government Peace Corps Manual for its volunteers who work in the Amazon Jungle. It tells what to do in case an anaconda attacks you.
1. If you are attacked by an anaconda do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.
3. Tuck your chin in.
4. The snake will come and begin to nudge and climb over your body.
5. Do not panic.
6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet and always from the end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic.
7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.
8. When the snake has reached your knees slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake's mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg, then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake's head.
9. Be sure you have your knife.
10. Be sure your knife is sharp.

Analysis of the Anaconda Attack Advice List

This list likely has its origin as a humorous posting online. One of the earliest sightings was on a message board for depression in 1998. There is an unverified report that it might have appeared in Mad magazine. You can dismiss the idea that it was ever published in a Peace Corps manual. However, is it legitimate advice?

Anacondas are among the largest snakes. The green anaconda, Eunectes murinus, is the largest snake by weight and the second longest. They are native to South America. They are usually found in the water, which helps support their large size and weight. Thus, they can be expected to be found in the Amazon and Orinoco basins, living in swamps and slow-moving streams.

Like boa constrictors, they entwine around their prey to crush it before consuming. They have a flexible ligament hinging their jaws, so they can open their mouths very wide to swallow large prey. These can include capybaras and deer, so it's not impossible that they could swallow a human.

However, it isn't true that you couldn't outrun an anaconda on land. They are quite slow on land. You might have more of a problem in the water, where you would be slow and the snake is faster. Once they begin to swallow their prey, the angle of their teeth make it hard for the prey to escape if still alive. It's probably a much better idea to put distance between yourself and the snake rather than allow the snake to start swallowing you.

It's unlikely that the snake would simply start swallowing you before entwining around you and constricting, whether feet first or head first. One snake researcher wrote of two instances where his assistants may have been targeted for attack by anacondas. In both cases, they were easily able to escape the attacking snake.

The Bottom Line

Internet and tabloid lore notwithstanding, snakes have rarely, if ever, been known to swallow full-grown human beings. Consider the anaconda advice to be humorous rather than factual.