Animal control officials have been searching for weeks in New Jersey’s Lake Hopatcong hoping to get a glimpse of what local residents called a giant snake. According to CBS News, the snake was first spotted earlier this month and reports of the creature describe it anywhere from 15 to 20 feet long. Reptile expert Gerald Andrejack, who saw the snake firsthand, specified that the snake may in fact be one of the largest snakes in the world: an anaconda.
“It’s a green anaconda,” Andrejcak told NJ.com. “I’ve known its species, but I was sworn to keep my mouth shut by local officials to avoid causing a panic. Now that there’s a panic, I’m going on the record.”
Experts with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) however, are not as convinced. While there have been multiple sightings of the snake, both by homeowners near the lake and by those actively searching for it, there have been no pictures taken of the mysterious animal. The growing buzz over a possible anaconda in New Jersey’s largest lake drew wildlife officials to Lake Hopatcong, but they say the story may be over-exaggerated.
“We’ve been trying to take this seriously, because if there is a dangerous creature we want to help capture it,” DEP spokesman Larry Ragonese told the Associated Press. “At this point, we’ve gone a couple weeks now with a growing story of an exotic creature roaming the lake, and there’s hundreds of eyes now trained on it. If there was to be something, you would think that that someone would have seen it.”
Those who claim to have seen the animal, like Tony Colantonio, said there is no doubt that a large snake is roaming Hopatcong’s waters. Colantonio rents property near the lake and believes the snake may be bedding down near his house. Andrejcak believes that snake may have once been someone’s pet, and irresponsibly introduced to the lake when it grew too large.
Green anacondas are the heaviest known snake species in the world and can weigh well over 100 pounds. They are native to the swamps of South America, but their size made the species popular with zoos and as private pets. Anacondas are fond of water and spend more time swimming than any other kind of snake. As popularized by several Hollywood movies, anacondas can move surprisingly fast in water and generally ambush prey from below the water’s surface. The snake then wraps itself around its prey and suffocates it. Contrary to popular belief, anacondas rarely target large animals and there are very few instances where a human is believed to have been consumed by one of these snakes.
Anaconda or not, animal control officials warn residents to stay away from any large snakes they see in the area.
“You don’t want to touch it. You don’t want to go towards it. You don’t want to threaten it. It’s not going to come at a person unless it’s threatened, cornered, caught—then, it will squeeze you to death,” said animal control officer Dale Sloat. “This big a snake would be aggressive.”