Olive python ingests juvenile wallaby

December 30, 2014 • 11:00 am

Trigger warning: Nature red in tooth and claw.

Reader Richard sent a link to an article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) showing an olive python swallowing a juvenile wallaby (the species of wallaby is unspecified). The ingestion took place near the town of Katherine, 320 km. south of Darwin.

Quotes from the article are indented; all photos are by Paul O’Neill/NT Parks and Wildlife:

Paul O’Neill, a ranger at the Nitmiluk National Park near Katherine, was on patrol early on Monday when he noticed a cacophony of bird noises nearby the tourist visitor centre.

Upon investigating the scene, Mr O’Neill found an olive python in the throes of attempting to swallow an agile wallaby joey.

He managed to take these photos of the python doing its best to chow down on the not so bite-sized meal.


Greg Smith from the Territory Wildlife Park said the snake had almost bitten off more than it could chew with this particular menu item.

“That is about the biggest prey it could eat,” he said.


“That wallaby would take about five to seven days to digest completely and the snake would go and hide for at least a month.

“The snake is of medium build and would probably start to hunt for more tucker within four to eight weeks, depending on the snake.”

Mr Smith said from past experience with breeding and dealing with hundreds of snakes, they have different appetites.


“Some snakes will start looking for food even if they are overweight and have just eaten, but on average that meal would be sufficient to sustain that snake for at least three months,” he said.

It downed the damn thing!


The olive python (Liasis olivaceous) is described by the site Snake Ranch as “a large, powerful snake, and is not recommended for beginners, or young keepers.” It adds that

We would not recommend it as a first snake due to the combination of large size and aggressive, and sometimes borderline psychopathic, feeding response. But for the experienced and capable keeper who can work around these tendencies, this is a very attractive species that shows a lot of character. But make no mistake – this is a species with one thing on its mind every time its enclosure is opened: food!

The last part sounds a bit like Hili! I’ll ask Greg to comment about this incident and the snake’s swallowing abilities.

Comments by Greg: Snakes are famous for their ability, unlike most other animals, to eat things bigger than their heads. This is because their skulls (unlike, say, ours) have many points of mobility: their jaws (both upper and lower) are not sutured to one another in front, allowing them, especially the lower, to gape very widely; the upper jaw is only loosely attached to the braincase; each jaw has multiple bones that can move relative to one another; and the quadrate bone of the skull, upon which the lower jaw articulates, can move relative to the rest of the skull. When feeding, a snake “walks” its jaws over the prey, alternately moving the right then left sides forward on the prey, with the recurved teeth preventing the prey from slipping or pulling out of the mouth. The body and digestive tract are also quite stretchy. Here’s a picture I used in a previous discussion of this topic here at WEIT:

Snake jaw. The blue ellipses indicate regions of mobility (and note that the lower jaw connection to the other side is only ligamentous. (From http://borbl426-526.blogspot.com/2012/03/lab-6-serpentes-ophidia-dan-paluh-and.html)
Snake skull. The blue ellipses indicate regions of mobility (and note that the lower jaw connection to the other side is only ligamentous. (From http://borbl426-526.blogspot.com/2012/03/lab-6-serpentes-ophidia-dan-paluh-and.html)

The one thing in the account that didn’t sound right to me was the claim that the wallaby would be digested in 5-7 days– this seems awfully fast. Checking some literature quickly, I see a hare digested by a python in warm temperatures in that time frame, but a hare is a lot smaller than a wallaby. I’d guess it might be up to twice as long as that, but it would depend on the temperataure; digestion rates do vary a lot with temperature. It is true that pythons will take a lot of time off between meals. I’ve often heard it said, but don’t know how good the data to support it is, that a really big constrictor will eat one very big meal a year.

As far as pets go, I wouldn’t recommend an olive python, but I do recommend ball pythons (Python regius). They don’t get very big, whole animals (rats, mice) provide a balanced diet, they don’t bask (so do not need special lighting), and almost all are captive bred (no conservation concerns, plus they are docile and readily eat already dead food items). In fact, they’re what I recommend to beginning reptile enthusiasts.

For more on the basic biology and natural history of snakes, I recommend: Greene, H.W. 1997. Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. University of California Press, Berkeley; and Ernst, C.H. & G.R. Zug. 1996. Snakes in Question. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.

h/t: Richard

77 thoughts on “Olive python ingests juvenile wallaby

    1. I am not aware that any of our snakes are imports. The rabbits, foxes, cane toads and rats, along with many dull brown birds are imports, but the snakes are all native I think.

    1. Waiting above the opening in their enclosure ready to ambush you, then going insane and attacking the door when you walk close with snake noms.

    2. They are unable to empathize with their victims, and they have impulse control problems. They scheme to commit something wrong while concealing evidence. They lie without remorse. Or am I describing the sociopathic snakes? I can never keep those two straight…

      1. They probably secretly and coldly plot revenge for perceived wrongs as well. And they are big braggers. Oh, the bragging of a snake is hard to cope with!

        1. And then there are the narcissist snakes. See, I can never distinquish those damn things.
          So what was Kaa in the Jungle Book?

          1. Oh that’s easy, the narcissistic snakes are lazing around unless something they do makes them look good and then you see them work hard. They also don’t tend to go after other snakes for revenge as often but they too brag about themselves a lot.

            I think most snakes seem to be narcissistic in literature.

            1. That damn biblical serpent ruined it for all snakes. Just like they made Eve look bad an ruined it for all women.

              I will one day incorporate a helpful snake into a fiction to rectify this injustice!

      1. One frequently hears that some sociopath con artist is “a snake in the grass.” What if there’s no grass? Hmm?

      1. Olives eat them all the time, once the snake’s over about 3 m long. The one in the pics is quite a bit smaller, probably 2.5 m, and an adult Agile would be much too big for it, but the joey is about right.

  1. Eewww and cool all at the same time.

    Could someone explain again how evolution can be reconciled with a sweet, kindly loving god sitting up on a cloud surrounded by harp music?

    1. The Devil, Satan, Lucifer or, my favorite, Beelzebub.

      Oh, and Free Willies of course. Between Satan and Free Willies a clever xian can explain anything.

        1. Or perhaps a demon? (Oh sorry, same thing)

          Satan is just returning it to “Down Under” where it belongs?

          Wow. I just had an interesting idea. I’m sure someone, many, have thought of it before. What if the snake was old Jehovah himself in disguise?

          Don’t bite the apple! – Go ahead, bite the apple!

          As sadistic and conniving as he is portrayed in much of the bible that scenario fits rather well.

  2. Compared to the way many prey animals die in the wild, I would think that being suffocated by a constrictor snake would be among the least horrible ways to go.

    I have a ball python, which is only about 4ft long, and it is amazing to watch her swallow her food. (We feed frozen rats that have been thawed and warmed.)

    1. I have felt that snake feeding is actually remarkably clean and relatively free of ‘ick’ factor.
      Compare that to cutting ones’ food with a knife and noisily chewing it to a saliva mixed pulp and swallowing it piecemeal. Now that is pretty icky.

    2. God no.

      I have seen how long it takes for even something small like a mouse to expire at the coils of a Royal. Suprisingly a long drawn out process.

      I love the ruthless efficiency of constricting snakes in principle. Apply the force needed to prevent your dinner from inhaling. Every time is does, ratchet the pressure up a little more. And then a little more.

      In practice watching a mouse suffocate over a few minutes is not pleasant.

      Still, the average snake is more humane (if such a word is even applicable) than any of my cats.

      Death by snake is so much nicer than death by cat.

    3. God no.

      I have seen how long it takes for even something small like a mouse to expire at the coils of a Royal. Suprisingly a long drawn out process.

      I love the ruthless efficiency of constricting snakes in principle. Apply the force needed to prevent your dinner from inhaling. Every time is does, ratchet the pressure up a little more. And then a little more.

      In practice watching a mouse suffocate over a few minutes is not pleasant.

      Still, the average snake is more humane (if such a word is even applicable) than any of my cats.

      Death by snake is so much nicer than death by cat.

  3. Speaking of snakes, a couple of hours ago we caught and translocated the venomous subject of Jerry’s Dec 12 snake post:


    It had taken up residence along a much-used trail, and its venom could have killed a child in six to seven hours (though it wouldn’t have swallowed it, unlike an Olive Python!)

    Juan Pablo Reyes, Fausto Recalde, and I first sprayed many gallons of cold water on it with the backpack mister I use for my orchids, to calm it down and make it uncoil without making it afraid. Then Juan Pablo picked it up with a snake hook attached to an extra long aluminum pole, and after many failed attempts we managed to thread it into a 2-meter PVC pipe with one closed end. We then closed off the other end and rather cockily hiked back to the car with the snake-filled tube. To our surprise we could feel its heat through the tube–this was a very warm-blooded snake, even after the cold shower!

    We let it go in a more remote spot, far from people. By that time I had become a bit attached to it. It never tried to bite us during the whole capture operation. That was lucky, because we made several mistakes and miss-steps.

    I’m glad that’s over with.

    1. That is how a venomous snake should be handled, especially with the pole an pipe.

      I see so many nature shows where a venomous reptile is encountered and the snake wrangler gets all macho by catching it in a way that is dangerous for him (always a ‘him’) and for the snake. Never is there even a lesson in how to do this relatively safely. This encourages people to take unnecessary chances.

      1. Last night, to prepare for this, I watched some snake-catching videos on YouTube. Some of those guys are nuts and are not going to live long. And the poor snake! Those videos helped us figure out better ways with the tools we had at hand.

      2. The absolute worst are the rattlesnake catching people in Texas. I’d rather sit through three episodes of Finding Bigfoot than watch one episode of that.

        1. I went to graduate school in Texas. It was horrible outside of Austin, with their “Rattlesnake Round-ups” slaughtering hundreds of snakes. My friends and I spent a lot of time protesting them.

          1. I don’t protest them, I just take comfort in the fact that their barns and fields will be soon be overrun with rats and mice.

      3. Appropriate methods for handling venomous snakes vary with species, size and conditions. Trying to thread any Australian elapid into a pipe without first getting control of its head would probably be a very bad idea, but I understand that vipers are different.

        1. I think the difference is that this pit viper is short, stocky, and very heavy-bodied. It just can’t raise itself much, and mostly hangs from the snake hook. Though admittedly we didn’t know this for sure before we started. In any case a wider tube would have been better.

          1. The snake had just fought and killed a goanna (Varanus gouldii) about as big as itself inside the funnel trap, and also regurgitated remains (most of the tail) of another. I didn’t know Simmo was recording and we weren’t targeting snakes particularly, so it wasn’t intended to be an exemplary catch. Unzipping the trap and then standing back is the correct (totally safe) method of release if you don’t need to examine the snake, but (having spent the last seven years in an area with two sympatric, subtly-different mulga snake species) it didn’t occur to me at the time.

      1. I did not want to make this into a photo-shoot, I wanted everyone to concentrate on doing the job safely with no distractions. We took some pictures when we first got there, and some after we had the snake closed up in the pipe, and some very blurry ones as we opened the tube (in pouring rain), but they aren’t much to look at. I’ll post them on our foundation’s blog:

        1. Just read your write-up at your blog–such an exciting story!

          I’m at a loss to imagine how one gets a snake in a tube, even after your pretty thorough account. Of course, I never really understand why snake hooks work, either.

          1. The snake hook is basically just a support to slide under a snake. The “hook” keeps the snake from sliding off the end of the support. One then lifts the snake, and its head and tail hang more or less freely down. The snake can move forward a bit though, so this balancing act doesn’t last long. While it is dangling, either end can be lowered into a more-or-less vertical tube. If enough goes in, the rest will follow eventually!

            In retrospect we should have used a wider tube (6 inch instead of 4 inch), which would have made it harder for the snake to get to the edge of the tube’s mouth while it was still hanging in the air on the snake hook.

            1. Thanks, Lou, that was the info I needed–that the hook actually slowed down the snake.

              I’m still surprised that one can get a snake into a tube, but obviously it works. 😀

  4. Beautiful snake!

    Trigger warning: nasty snake stories ahead:

    Reminds me of a story told to me by some guys running a reptile store when I was younger. They had a couple of truly massive snakes in the back room, an Anaconda and a Reticulated Python. They used to feed them rabbits (and I hate to mention it on this site, but apparently they weren’t above getting rid of the occasional stray cat that way either).

    They said they always had to be really careful to make sure the cent of a rabbit or other mammal wasn’t on their skin before dealing with those snakes. Apparently at one point one of the guys had gone to do something with the python, feed it or whatever, and he was careless. The other owner heard him screaming and ran in to find the python having swallowed the guy’s arm past the elbow working up to the shoulder.
    They saved the guy (I don’t know how).

    I had a large rainbow boa that was very docile when I was a young teenager. However, one time it was around my neck and I was leaving my bedroom. I tripped for a moment and by mistake yanked on the part of the snake I’d been holding. It’s reflex was to immediately wrap around my neck for dear life. It was incredible how the snake went from placidly draped around my shoulders like a soft leather belt, to feeling like someone had just wrapped a concrete pole around my neck. I wasn’t panicking because, like a jujitsu choke hold it wasn’t so much painful as it was tons of pressure. But I couldn’t get it off because I couldn’t find it’s head or tail.

    I remembered my “Your Pet Boa” book mentioning that if this happened, the snake may tuck it’s head and tail in it’s coils making them impossible to find, so get to a mirror to help. I walked into the bathroom, and was fairly shocked to see how read my head was and how tight the snake looked.
    Not only that, I was feeling faint so I started scrambling to find an end of the snake.

    I’ll never forget that view of myself in the mirror because my vision started going, sort of fading at the edges like a cloud coming in from all sides, with me trying to get the snake off. Of course I found the head or tail and unwrapped it, just as I felt like I was going to fall down, and I had to just sit for quite a while to get my brain working normally.

    The creepy thing is that the snake’s reflex, I presume, once it’s gone into that constriction mode, is to keep squeezing until whatever it’s constricting stops moving/breathing or whatever. So I suspect
    had I not found a way to unwrap it in time, things might not have turned out well for me.

    Great pet other than that, though. 🙂

    1. That’s a great story about the let snake, Vaal. Glad you got the snake unwrapped. If someone else had been there, perhaps they would’ve panicked and hurt the snake.

      Those large snakes you mention I beliee are banned in some places. They tend to eat up small children and pets. It seems, from your story as well that they have no qualms going for an adult either.

      A few years back a tragedy happened in the Maritimes in Canada when a large snake killed two children, one was a child sleeping over. I believe I read that they suspect the snake smelled some sort of animal on the children as well and the snake had gotten out of his enclosure in a pet store above or below the home (forget the exact details).

    2. Yikes! When I was a docent at a natural history museum we would take out ‘Rosy’ the rosy boa to let the kids handle. She was a totally docile snake. Many children who thought they would never handle a snake were brought around by Rosy.

      1. I met a snake named Rosy at a reptile place in Drumheller, Alberta. What is with that name & snakes. I held her and she had nice soft snake skin.

    3. I guess the way to get a big snake to chuck you back up is to just get started. Work on that flexible skull to ‘walk’ you back out. Eventually it will get discouraged and start to cooperate as a measure of self-protection. Still, constrictors have long teeth and there were probably many deep puncture wounds in that guys arm.

      1. At the very least it would seem to be cruelty to animals.

        In an earlier article I read about how they were sure they could make the snake disgorge the idiot after he was swallowed, and that the snake “would not be harmed in any way.”

        I’ll bet someone was standing by with knives.

        1. I remember a stupid show on Discovery (I think that was the network) & they had a phoney survival outing where the caught a snake and ate it. I guess it was supposed to gross us out but it infuriated me that they caught the snake and killed it, especially because the show was so clearly phoney with a whole camera crew following these supposed “survivors”. I never watched it again.

          1. The really sad thing is that Discovery has had so many fake survival shows over the last decade that I’m not sure which one you’re referring to. It sounds lie the kind of stunt they liked to pull in Man Vs Wild (he was really fond of doing gross things like eating a live frog just for audience reaction), but it could have been Dual Survival, Man, Woman, Wild, or Naked And Afraid as well.

            1. I can’t stand that show. Couldn’t stand it when I first heard about it, really, but when I saw a promo for one episode where he grabbed a coyote and started carrying it around by the tail I realized that they weren’t even paying lip service to animal safety.

              What I’d really like to see is him grab a three colored snake and start telling the audience “now what we have here is a harmless scarlet kingsnake-” at which point the snake bites his thumb and he realized that the color pattern is yellow-black-yellow-red, not black-yellow-black-red…

              1. How do they get away with sh*t like that? I thought we had oversight in place.

                Oh, right, I suppose we’ve slashed all their budgets…

  5. Ball pythons do indeed bask although lights aren’t necessarily the only heat source. Heat tape and heat pads can be utilized to provide the requisite thermoregulatory temps.

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