A team of scientists from the University of Queensland captured a species of giant anaconda believed to be the largest in the world deep in Ecuador’s Amazon.

The group of scientists, led by Professor Bryan Fry, discovered the nearly 10 million-year-old species with the help of the indigenous Huaorani people while filming Pole to Pole with Will Smith”, a National Geographic series broadcast on Disney+ and presented by the Oscar winner.

“The size of these magnificent creatures was incredible,” Fry said in a news release. “One female anaconda we found was an astonishing 6.3 meters (20.8 feet) long.”

Huaorani Chief Penti Baihua’s invitation to enter Baihuaeri Huaorani territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon was “one of the few granted since the tribe’s first contact in 1958,” Fry told USA TODAY on Thursday.

“Our team received an unusual invitation: to explore the region and collect samples from an anaconda population,” he said.

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The trip to the jungle

northern green anaconda "breeding ball"

Northern green anaconda “breeding ball”

Chief Baihua led Fry’s team on a 10-day search for the anacondas, considered sacred to the tribe.

The team took canoes downriver in the Bameno region, where they found “several anacondas lurking in shallow water, lying in wait for their prey,” Fry said.

The group then captured several specimens of the species they named the northern green anaconda. (Eunectes akayima).

“The key to understanding the discovery is the difference in the geographic range of anaconda species,” Fry told USA TODAY.

The Amazon has two separate basins. The larger southern basin (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, and parts of French Guiana) is home to the green anaconda, where the northern green anaconda comes from. The smaller northern basin (Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad, Venezuela and parts of French Guiana) is home to the newly discovered northern green anaconda.

The two species differ genetically by 5.5%, Fry said. “It’s quite significant: to put it in perspective, humans differ from chimpanzees by only about 2%.”

Rumors of larger snakes.

A northern green anaconda eating a deer.

A northern green anaconda eating a deer.

“There are anecdotal reports from the Huaorani people of other anacondas in the area measuring more than 7.5 meters long (24.6 feet) and weighing around 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds),” Fry said, sharing with USA TODAY that the son of the Baihua chief, Marcelo Tepeña. Baihua, he has scars from a snake that size.

“The scars were clearly from a really huge snake. They say it wasn’t even the biggest one they’ve ever seen,” Fry said. “So it is clear that the snakes in Huaorani lands are indeed the largest of all the anacondas.”

Details about the snakes found were published in the MDPI Diversity scientific article.

Future work

Northern green anaconda head

Northern green anaconda head

Fry says his team’s work in the Amazon is far from over. Contaminants like cadmium and lead have made their way into “the delicate fabric of this ecosystem as a result of the frequent oil spills that hit the Yasuní Amazon,” Fry shared.

Fry’s team hopes to monitor the reproduction of the northern green anaconda to gain a greater understanding of the health of the overall ecosystem.

“Our future expeditions will focus on the collection and analysis of biological, water and soil samples, employing cutting-edge techniques to trace the routes of these contaminants,” Fry said. “By understanding how these metals affect the endocrine systems of Amazonian wildlife, we can begin to unravel the long-term consequences of exposure and devise strategies to mitigate these effects.”

Although the future of this newly discovered species is uncertain, the journey through the jungle was full of “wonders,” even when there were challenges, Fry shared.

“I like nothing more than being hot and dirty while walking through swamps looking for giant snakes,” Fry said. “This discovery is the highlight of my career.”

This article originally appeared in USA TODAY: New anaconda species said to be largest ever found in Amazon

By Sam