If you’re a snake aficionado, you just may recognize the Milwaukee County Zoo’s latest inhabitant: a green anaconda named Olive, previously at Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo.
At 15.2 feet, Olive takes the crown as the longest snake that’s ever been in MCZ’s population on record. She’s 21 years old and a petite 120 pounds. Zookeepers report that she’s settled in well to her recently-renovated habitat in the Aquatic & Reptile Center. Olive arrived on Oct. 26 and is completing the standard quarantine period in the habitat, due to her large size, rather than at MCZ’s Animal Health Center.
Green anacondas are known as “water boas,” able to stay submerged in water for over ten minutes. They’re excellent swimmers and known to drift in river currents as a convenient way of locomotion. Anacondas are also ambush hunters and true constrictors. A swift bite holds their prey while several loops coil around the prey’s body, immediately restricting its breathing. The anaconda may also simply hold its prey under water until drowning it. Found from the wilds of the Amazon rainforest to the forests of Central America, green anacondas will eat mammals including deer, monkeys, and capybara, as well as birds, fish, and turtles. They are the heaviest snakes in the world, reaching up to 500 pounds and 30 feet long. At MCZ, Olive is currently on a bit of a weight-restricted diet, consuming one frozen rabbit a month.
MCZ follows a large constrictor protocol, and at her current size, three zookeepers must be present when they’re working with Olive or in her habitat. The animal care team is able to clean the habitat under her watchful eye at a distance, but she becomes a bit “livelier” if she requires a physical move. During the week, when attendance at MCZ is a little quieter, you might find Olive sitting with her head elevated two to three feet out of the water. She also comes out of the water at night – zookeepers can tell because plants have been knocked over when they check on her the following morning.
Olive resides in the habitat previously occupied by anaconda Mo, who was humanely euthanized due to longstanding medical issues last February at the age of 25. A red-tailed boa (one of three at MCZ) also shared the habitat but was moved off exhibit when Olive arrived. Before a red-tailed boa moves back in, additional climbing structures will need to be added for them. The animal care team will also need to first assess whether Olive views any potential co-inhabitant as prey.
MCZ was glad to collaborate with Henry Vilas on the transfer of one of their largest reptiles. The Madison zoo also had another green anaconda, and over the years, realized that their habitat wasn’t offering both snakes the space to express their natural behaviors. After Mo passed, leaving an open, anaconda-appropriate exhibit, MCZ and Henry Vilas began to brainstorm.
Olive was born at the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, along with 28 other snakes at the time. (Green anacondas don’t lay eggs; they give birth to live young, about 1 to 2 feet long.) She was named by children at the Henry Vilas Zoo School.
Stop by the Aquatic & Reptile Center and check out magnificent Olive – we’re thrilled she’s here!
Fun fact: Though anacondas are great swimmers, they’ll also hang from branches to dry off.