Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo

Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo
For those who don't think twice about the discovery of pythons within Singapore, these photos may make you more alert to the reptile in our midst, says STOMPer Devilmaycare.

He received these amazing photos via email and immediately connected them with the sightings of pythons in various parts of Singapore. He has seen photos of these sightings in Singapore Seen.

What he would like to do is warn Singaporeans not to be complacent and try to nab the pythons themselves. You may end up as food for the python, says Devilmaycare. Also, make sure you stick close to your babies when you go on an outdoor jaunt with them.

Better safe than sorry, says Devilmaycare.

Here, in these photos taken in Australia, you can see how easily a python can gobble up a kangaroo much bigger than it.

Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo
Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo
Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo
Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo
Beware of pythons in S'pore: Just look at this snake swallowing a kangaroo

Oh come on, everyone knows that the Anaconda movies seriously exaggerate the ability of large snakes to swallow humans.

I think the danger is overstated; yes, large pythons can pose some threat to people, and young children are definitely at risk. But let's look at it this way: reticulated pythons (Broghammerus reticulatus) are quite common in urban Singapore, and it is not impossible to find giants lurking in our drains and sewers. Still, over the past few decades, I don't think there are many reports of people in Singapore being attacked by pythons, and I doubt any of them were cases of attempted predation.

I'm not saying that there is no risk; there have been occasional reports over the years of giant pythons feeding on humans, and there is the case of Ee Heng Chuan, the Malaysian rubber tapper who was killed by a reticulated python in 1995. Measuring 6.65 metres in length, the python was discovered attempting to swallow its unfortunate victim, but appeared to have difficulty getting past the shoulders.

Still, I think the person who submitted this post to STOMP is exaggerating a little. I admit that for the inexperienced and foolhardy, handling a python is no laughing matter. A person who attempts to capture a python is putting himself at some risk, especially if the snake, in an attempt to defend itself, manages to get its coils around the person's neck or chest and starts squeezing. Even a juvenile python can be exceptionally strong, not to mention the numerous sharp teeth that enable the snake to get a secure grip on its prey.

If a python is encountered and it needs to be removed, it's best to leave the snake-wrangling to the authorities. But attacking out of self-defense is an entirely different matter from attacking as an act of predation. Besides, I'm sure that the majority of pythons encountered are far too small to consider adult humans as suitable prey. A python can be large enough to kill a person, but still be too small to swallow its victim.

And even if the python is too small to constrict an adult, I still worry about those teeth. Take a look at the impressive dentition of a python, in this cases an African rock python (Python sebae).

In any case, one should not be leaving small children unattended in the first place while outdoors. Many things can happen to them; they might fall and hurt themselves. Or eat poisonous fruit. Or kick a hornets' nest. Or run face-first into a clump of thorny plants. Or get run over by traffic. You get my drift.

By the way, if you are curious, the photos in the post on STOMP have been circulating around the Internet for several years, and depict an Australian scrub python (Morelia kinghorni) swallowing a wallaby (F. Macropodidae). Do note that the prey isn't one of those large 'roos like the eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) or red kangaroo (Macropus rufus), but is more likely to be one of the smaller wallaby species.

By the way, you can view the entire sequence showing the python swallowing the wallaby (without the ugly STOMP watermark) by accessing this gallery on pbase. Nobody seems to know the original source of these pictures.

Also known as the amethystine python*, the Australian scrub python is Australia's largest snake, and individuals more than 5 metres in length are already considered very large. The maximum length is not known for sure; some sources cite an unverified record of 8.5 metres.

*The scrub or amethystine python of Queensland, New Guinea, and the Maluku Islands has long been considered to be a single species (Morelia amethistina), although it is now thought that it may actually constitute several closely related species.

Australian scrub python, Wooranooran National Park;
(Photo by Stewart Macdonald)

There are several eyewitness accounts of large Australian scrub pythons attempting to swallow wallabies; examples can be seen here, here, and here. There is also the report of an Australian scrub python that killed and ate a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita). Then there are the tragic moments when the family pet becomes prey.

There is also this very interesting photo of an olive python (Liasis olivaceus), Australia's second largest snake, attempting to drag a wallaby carcass out of the water.

Sometimes however, a python might attempt to swallow prey that is far too large; this particular reticulated python in Malaysia tried to swallow a pregnant ewe, only to regurgitate its oversized meal some time later.

Before I get carried away and do a long post on giant snakes, I'll force myself to conclude by saying that yes, the risk of getting injured or even killed by a python is certainly there, especially where young children are concerned. Still, there are so many more dangerous things out there, many of which pose an even greater threat than a large python. The last thing these pythons need is more paranoia and misinformation.