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Disclaimer: This is not a duplicate of this question. This question deals with a specifically non-marine snake.

My fantasy story requires a giant snake. The easiest way to create one (as far as food goes, at least) is to have it be marine, but I don't want to tie my setting to the ocean coast. For that reason, I want a giant snake which is land-based (or at least not ocean-going).

The most immediate problem I see with this is food: snakes seem to operate on two basic strategies:

  1. Strangulation. The snake lies in wait, crushing its victims or drowning them.
  2. Venom. The snake lies in wait, relying on fast reflexes to strike its target with paralyzing/killing venom, making for an easy meal.

The problem I see my snake having is its size. It's going to be too big to hide, and I can't really see it moving fast enough to poison anything. What is its strategy when it comes to food?

If there are other problems involved with a giant snake, please let me know and feel free to address them as well.

How can I get a giant non-marine snake?

Notes:

  • The snake needs to be six feet wide in diameter. This is a must. There is no requirement on length, but I would imagine this width will make the snake very long.
  • The climate is tropical. Large trees are plentiful.
  • While I don't want a marine snake, lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water are perfectly fine.
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  • $\begingroup$ How land based are we talking, the largest snakes like swamps and rainforests, it much easier for them to ambush prey from under dark swamp water or deep foliage. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 23 '17 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ titanoboa, the largest snake known was about 2.5 ft in diameter and about 40ft long, so scaling that up your snake would be about 95ft long. At that size you had better have lots of big things around for it to eat, constrictions doesn't work if the animals is to small compared to the snake. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 23 '17 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ @John Swamps and rain-forests are fine, possibly even ideal for what I have in mind. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Apr 23 '17 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure whether you've considered the weight issue. The snake would have an x-sectional area of about $\pi \times \left(\frac{6}{2}\right)^2= 30$sq.ft. or 3sq.m. An anaconda grows to 30 ft at 550 lb.(livescience.com/…), so about 9m at 250kg; so mass per unit length is ${250\over9}\approx 28kgm^{-1}$. That's for a snake much less than 3 sq.m in cross section. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Apr 23 '17 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ @nzaman I'm afraid the measurements got lost on me there. Could you put that in layman's terms? $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Apr 23 '17 at 5:29
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My conclusion:

A snake hunts using vibrations, movement detection, and smell. For this reason, I would place your snake close to the ground, inside or near caves. This would solve your dual problem of hiding and hunting, because the snake could consume whatever creature was foolish enough to enter or be near the snake's cave.

Fantasy cave snake

The main drawback to this solution is that the snake would be limited to traveling from cave to cave. This would be less problematic if your environment was fairly cave-prone, perhaps something like this:

Tropical environ with caves

My thought process:

1. How will the snake hide?

My immediate reaction was that the snake could hide in sand (like beaches, deserts, or riverbanks), like the Sandworm from Dune.

Sandworm

Obviously, this creature could easily inspire terror. As for the mechanics of a snake of that size moving through sand, I am unsure- you would have to do further research on that, depending on how hard you want your science to be.

But, you have a tropical climate with plentiful large trees. While I might normally suggest that the snake climb trees, I feel that a six-foot-diameter snake is far too large for a normal-size tree. It must:

  • Climb the tree
  • Not break the tree
  • Ambush prey from the tree (I assume), so it must fall out of tree with limited damage, which is difficult for a snake of that mass

Unless, of course, you have a very, very large tree or trees:

Large tree with snake

The problem with this is that if you have a limited number of massive trees, you can simply avoid the area with these trees.

2. How will the snake eat?

Depends on what you want your snake to eat. The Titanoboa, a massive prehistoric snake, was possibly piscivorous, meaning that it primarily consumed fish. But, you say that you do not want your snake to be tied to the coast. (I am assuming that you also do not care for lakes or large rivers, though a large river would not be out-of-place in a tropical environment).

I think the answer to this question depends largely on what other animals live in the snake's environment, as it would likely evolve to prey on these animals.

You might find these resources helpful:

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  • $\begingroup$ Rivers or lakes are certainly not out of the question. I just don't want the setting to be next to the ocean, that's all. I'll edit the OP. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Apr 23 '17 at 5:26
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Hiding

Since you say fresh water is OK, I'd make it live in swampy / forest-surrounded lakes. It's pretty much impossible to see anything in murky water, so 'too big to hide' shouldn't be a concern as long as the water is more than six feet deep.

Given that big pythons and such can go months without eating, it might even coil up and cover itself with vegetation, thus disguising itself as a hummock in the swamp.

Food supply

This thing is going to be absolutely huge. It would probably weigh something like 60 tons* even if relatively short, say 80 feet / 25 meters.

However, that's not necessarily completely unreasonable. The Sperm Whale is about that mass, and its a macropredator. And as a mammal, it has a much higher metabolism (and thus higher food needs) than this low-metabolism snake will.

So you're probably best off with a large region with lakes, rivers, swamp, forest etc. (maybe something like the Mississippi Delta & Atchafalaya swamp on the US Gulf Coast before its development by humans) Wetlands can be very biologically productive, and you could have its main diet be things like alligators and large fish (paddlefish, alligator gar, and giant catfish for example).

*body radius - 0.9m, cross sectional area is pi * r^2 or 2.54 m^2, total volume 2.54 * 25 or 63.5 cubic meters). If this is a water-dwelling creature, it should have roughly neutral buoyancy, so about 1 ton per cubic meter.

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    $\begingroup$ Putting this as a comment since it breaks the parameters of the main question - if you want this thing to be a threat to human characters, you might want to make it somewhat smaller (though still huge), which would probably make it more mobile/agile. Titanoboa size (over 40 feet long with a diameter between 2 and 3 feet) would probably be quite large enough to hunt and eat humans. The largest reticulated pythons are barely capable of eating humans, but it happens very rarely. But they are close enough to the threshold of practical human-eating that you don't have to scale them up much. $\endgroup$ – cometaryorbit Apr 23 '17 at 7:37
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I suspect that the scale you're talking about would run into the square cube issue. Using the Green Anaconda as a model, our girtheist​ living snake, at 29 feet you only get a foot of diameter. Your snake would be approximately 174 feet long... That's big.

If we handwave that we still have the issue that as far as we know all very large snakes have been semi-aquatic. Being huge it helps to displace your weight in water.

Handwaving that we still have some issues to address.

Heat being the first that comes up. A very large reptile will have problems maintaining body temperature. Some reptiles have limited reproductive endothermy, but that's still a stretch for one that's a full six feet thick and one hundred and seventy four feet long. So it'll need to be hot, like really really hot, all the time.

The next issue is food. Now surprisingly this may not be as big a problem as you might think. The Green Anaconda can go weeks without a good meal, so with a slow metabolism your snake may only need a cow every week or so... But how would this monster sneak up on a cow?

This leads me to the point of all this. I suspect that the only way such a creature could exist on Earth would be in captivity. Some snakes really do get significantly larger in captivity... Some even seem to match their enclosures.

Now if your giant snake was carefully maintained by studious herpetologists, who very carefully cared for it, you may be able to get your monster. Unfortunately it would​n't survive long on it's own.

This arrangement would require some handwavium, but a little less. These snakes exist in the wild, they're just significantly smaller.

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  • $\begingroup$ Large snakes are behaviorally semi-aquatic, its not a limit of their anatomy, boa constrictors survive just fine in other environments including semi-arid deserts. As for scale you might want to consider Titanoboa which which is a bit less than half the size of the proposed snake. the truly gigantic snakes are also shorter proportionally. $\endgroup$ – John Apr 23 '17 at 12:13
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The Boundary Ouroboros

The good news is that snakes have less of an issue with the square-cube law than other animals. Since they lie against the ground, as long as any segment of the body can support itself, the total length of the snake can be basically whatever you want. This doesn't tend to occur in nature because extra length requires more food to grow and move but doesn't convey any real benefit, but since your story is a fantasy I will presume that the giant snake is created, not evolved, and therefore doesn't need a plausible evolutionary history explaining its size.

However, this means that your snake is not going to look like an enlarged version of existing snakes - it is going to be very long, and very thin relative to its length. It will not pursue prey, as moving the whole body will be extremely costly - no more costly than moving a bunch of snakes positioned end-to-end, but it only has one mouth, and therefore cannot waste energy moving its whole body to chase prey it might not catch.

I would propose the following lifestyle:

Your snake is only a few feet in diameter (big, but not BIG big), but extremely, extremely long - we're talking one to several kilometers in length. It lives in lush areas with many large animals, and loops around its territory ouroboros-style, making its body a boundary. It winds back and forth as it encircles the area, leaving some slack in every part of its body. Its scales are rough and enable it to camouflage. When a large enough animal crosses any part of its body, it quickly throws the nearest "loop" around it, then constricts it to death. It then moves the loop along its body to bring the carcass around toward the head where it can be eaten, or moves its head toward the captured prey. By lying in a loop, it minimizes the average distance between the head and any given part of its body.

However, it should sometimes allow animals to cross over its body, particularly if they are small, moving toward the center of the ring, and are on the part of the body far away from the head. This is because the farther away from the head the animal is caught, the more energy it will take to actually bring them to the mouth (or bring the mouth to them). It will also prevent the prey population within the ring from being depleted, allow younger animals into the ring to grow up and be consumed later, and prevents animals from simply learning to avoid the snake's body entirely. Small animals may even learn to cross over the snake's body when being pursued by predators - the snake will allow the small prey to cross but may capture the larger predator.

Any prey that comes near the head can be caught and constricted in the manner of a normal big snake. It will not be venomous - venomous snakes bite prey and then pursue it slowly until it dies, and pursuing prey long distances is one thing this snake does not want to do.

When it is ready to move to a new location, or when all the animals inside the ring have learned not to cross its body, it will "harvest" the population within the ring by slowly spiraling its head towards the middle, tightening the loop and capturing any prey that crosses the boundary as it does so.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does the snake die if the head touches its body boundary? Jokes aside this is a rather different answer and an interesting mechanic. One could potentially use them as natural prisons. Throw people into the snake circle - prison and executioner. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Apr 26 '17 at 13:59
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What is its strategy when it comes to food?

The spitting cobra comes to mind. Why chase down the food when you can spit a deadly venom at it that will cause it pain and possibly damage it enough to slow it down or stop it? With such a large snake- one would imagine it would be able to launch quite the loogie for quite a distance since it'll have a very good angle and range.

An alternative would be a snake with above-normal intelligence for a snake. With such a large body and skull- it should have a larger brain as well. Obviously size alone doesn't make/break intelligence but this is a creature you're inventing after all. Have the giant thing knock over a tree onto its prey, dig a pit, set up a trap or enclosed area to chase something to, track something by scent to the lair- once you introduce higher cognitive thinking to a creature you're limited only by your imagination.

I do have to agree that snakes as a massive creature are not the best survivors. Think of all that mass that's entirely open to attack- something starts biting the snake in the rear and by the time it brings its' head the hell around to deal with the threat- it's long gone.

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If you're only worried about food, then make it an ambush predator that will happily snack on anything silly enough to walk in it's mouth at any time but active mostly at night. Tropical jungles can hide tanks and plane wrecks from views, they can hide a six foot snake head.

The snakes main problem would be the noise it makes moving around but it could use that as part of it's hunting strategy to trap prey by circling in on the prey so that when it hears the snake and runs, it actually runs into another part of the snake ready to grab it and squeeze it to death.

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