A gruesome close-up shows just

Largest Python ever

Plunge the chasm of human mythmaking and you'll encounter lots of colossal snakes, from cosmic world serpents to malevolent monsters. Today, their fictional descendants continue to enthrall us, whether trying to swallow Mowgli from "The Jungle Book" or simply vomiting up a half-digested Jon Voight in 1997's "Anaconda."

But outside the world of myth and fantasy, what colossal specimen can science offer us? What, based on fossil evidence and biological survey, is the largest snake ever to slither its way through the natural world?

The modern serpent queen's crown (the females are larger in both species) rests most easily on the heads of either the Asian reticulated python (Python reticulatus), so called for its geometric color pattern, or the South American green anaconda (Eunectes murinus). If you're an avid reality TV viewer, you might remember the green anaconda Chumana, which failed to gobble up "Eaten Alive" host Paul Rosolie.

Many sources tend to credit the reticulated python with the greatest record length, while crediting the heavier, semiaquatic green anaconda with the greatest overall weight and size. Other sources, such as the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, just go ahead and award the green anaconda top honors. You might well expect there to be a bit more scientific certainty on the matter, but you'd be quite wrong.

Giant snake accounts are rather like giant fish stories. The maximum size is directly proportional to the amount of skepticism you choose to employ. Do you trust that Victorian explorer or scrap of local hearsay? Do you ignore how stretched the skin appears in that 50-year-old photograph? Ultimately, record measurements in the wild are few, far between and easily bungled or exaggerated.

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Random House Books for Young Readers Magic Tree House #31: Summer of the Sea Serpent (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))
Book (Random House Books for Young Readers)
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