Australia is known for a lot of wonderful features – the Sydney Opera House, friendly locals and a staggering amount of wildlife that’s waiting to maim, injure or outright kill you. From deadly bees to scary spiders, it would seem that insects top the list of cringe-worthy warnings in the land down under, but there’s one snake that might just make you rethink which creatures post the biggest threat. Thankfully, the olive python is nonvenomous – unlike its lookalike, King Brown, cousins on the island – but that doesn’t mean its harmless, especially if you’re a tasty crocodile.
Yes, you read that right – a crocodile. Those scaly dinosaur-resembling predators that are best known for their gazelle-chomping cameos in nature videos actually fall prey to snakes. We’re not talking a venomous bite, either – remember that these snakes have no venom! This is a shocking twist that you just have to see to believe – watch this jaw-dropping (or is that jaw popping?) event as it unfolds.
This ten foot long olive python was enjoying the shallow waters of Lake Moondarra Sunday afternoon as it hunts for its dinner. Which more often than not consists of small animals that should be paying better attention to their surroundings.
The epic battle started and ended in the water and lasted a grueling 5 hours, according the eye-witnesses. They also said that it looked like that the crocodile was attempting to keep his head above water at one point in the battle but was not successful.
Snakes can eat things MUCH larger than it’s own size. Because this snake is not venomous it kills its prey by constriction. This has many purposes – it not only kills its prey but it also crushes it’s body so the snake is able to eat its meal whole.
The snake was deemed the winner! He uncoiled himself and dragged his well earned meal to land. Pythons are able to sense it’s preys heartbeat, which gives the snake the ability to know when their meal is dead so they can stop constricting and conserve as much energy as possible. They will need it for the digestion process.
As observers, we get the benefit of looking down the snake’s maw from a safe distance away, but it’s still absolutely unbelievable. The extent to which their jaws unhinge is shocking, but absolutely necessary to take down huge prey like this one. Without this ability, the snake would end up with broken bones and either choke on its meal or eventually end up starving to death for lack of opportunity.
It’s hard to make heads or tails of this point in the engulfing process, but we can tell you that the snake has the crocodile’s entire head down its gullet and it’s steadily working its way to the mid-body. You may wonder how on earth a snake has room for its organs AND a meal this big. Surely it will kill itself, right?
Actually, this Olive Python will be fine, even with this massive meal inside him. His internal organs will readjust themselves. His heart will actually elongate so that there’s more room for this spiny feast. Wondering why the snake is still wrapped around his kill?
This snake has now officially gotten the entire body of the crocodile down and just has this biological speed bump of a tail to contend with. But where the hell did the crocodile’s feet go? Those claws went down too? How on earth did this snake swallow those sharp, weapon-like reptile claws?
Thankfully, the streamlined body of the croc, made for gliding through the water, their legs fold naturally up against the body. This trait likely served him well in life, but in death, it’s the snake reaping the benefits. Without having to worry about the snag or scratch of errant claws, the meal goes down much more easily.
Snakes do not have a full set of teeth, so they’re not exactly able to tear off bite-size chunks of their dinner. It’s all or nothing in this crazy event, and this snake wasn’t going to let a croc get the better of him, alive or dead. This last little bit appears to be more labor-intensive than the vast majority of the body.
Even with the width of the crocodile to content with, the snake is still relatively slim – a function of crushing its meal both before and during the chow-down. While it’s not exactly going to be svelte, it needs some degree of width-dampening on meals like this to allow it to move to safer ground for the long digestion process. The next shot shows the true magnitude of this undertaking.
Now that his biological duty is concluded, the well-fed snake slowly slithers away to a safe hiding spot to work on the weeks of digestion ahead of him. He will be more vulnerable to other predators as his body works its magic, as he represents a slow, sluggish two-in-one meal as he appears here. While he’ll get a huge nutritional payoff for an afternoon’s work, the tradeoff is that he will be less able to defend himself or flee if trouble shows up. From the looks of it, he’s ok with that!
In the next few X-ray images you can see how the digestion process inside of a snakes stomach. As you can see, the entire body of the prey is sitting nice and tight, everything still intact. The entire process will only take about 7 days.
In day 2 of the digestion, and it doesn’t look like much as changed. But in fact, the organs have increased in size. No one wants to eat a spoiled meal, it’s the same for snakes. By the organs increasing by almost double allows the snake to break down the food before it goes bad.
This olive python’s intestines will go into a hypertrophic state, swelling up to many times their normal size as they produce enough digestive enzymes to liquefy the hard-skinned reptile inside. This is a necessary process to extract the nutrients in the meal, but it means several things will happen – the PH level of the snake’s body will take a nosedive as the new enzymes are produced, and he will not need to eat again for several weeks, possibly even months, due to the bulk of the meal.
This is an efficient, if difficult to watch, method of survival for snakes in Australia. Catching faster, smaller prey like bats requires patience as the snake lies in wait for the ambush, and it doesn’t provide much nutrient payoff for the work. This croc, on the other hand, will keep him very full and satisfied for many days to come.
You’re probably questioning if a snake has ever bitten off more than it could chew. The answer is yes! Here you can see a python literally burst at the seams after eating an gator that was almost half it’s size.
28. Well Then
This whole progression is even more shocking when you consider the saltwater crocodile is an impressive predator in his own right.
When it comes to survival, nothing is more important than access to food and water. You’ve likely never heard of pemmican, but its one of the most nutritious and accessible foods in the wild. Invented by the natives of North America, pemmican was used by scouts as well as early western explorers. These people spent a great deal of time on the go and depended on having portable, high-energy, highly nutritious, and filling foods that would last for long periods of time without refrigeration.