Carpet Python Attacks Child

Amos T Fairchild/Creative Commons

In New South Wales, Australia, a child was attacked by a python. What makes this case especially interesting is that the attacker was a coastal carpet python. This species is not generally regarded as a danger to humans. It is probably not large enough to successfully prey on people; though it grows to 10 feet (and in a record case, 13 feet), it is apparently not as thick and powerful as species like the boa constrictor. The constrictors commonly mentioned as dangerous, like the Burmese python and the reticulate python, are far thicker and longer. Nonetheless, the carpet python could certainly hurt or even kill a small child if motivated. 

But why would it? The snake-catcher quoted in the article proposes that the python was only looking for a warm spot. This scenario is supported by the fact that the snake only began to bite after the mother discovered it and tried to remove it. But the mother says the snake was wrapped around the little girl's arm. In larger species, that would sound like predatory behavior. I'm not sure what to make of it here. 

I'm intrigued by the role of the pet cat, too. It alerted the mother by hissing at the snake. She says it had also been behaving oddly for several days, as if it was aware of the snake's presence in the house long before the humans were. 

Mother rescues baby daughter from 6ft python after waking to find the snake wrapped around the infant's arm | Mail Online

"While Zara was being treated at the hospital for the snake bites – which weren’t venomous – snake expert Tex Tillis hunted down the python at Mrs Guthrie’s home.

He found it sleeping between the bedside table and the wall and suspects it had been in the bedroom for several days."

4 comments:

  1. A couple thoughts occur to me. If the snake only bit after the mother tried to remove it, that sounds to me more like seeking the child out for warmth and probably coiling around the arm either in response to the child shifting position, or if the cat had already started poking at the snake, gearing up to defend itself. Any constriction would be incidental. This is not to trivialize it; I have owned carpet pythons, and I NEVER allowed one to form a complete coil around my neck. When I held Uriah, my larger one, I always made sure I knew what his head and rear were doing. (The average length of a carpet python, realistically, is usually less than 10 feet, most falling into the 7-8 foot range, which makes me wonder if the oft-cited 13-footer wasn't a case of mistaken identity--a similar case of confusion between boa constrictor and green anaconda gave us records of an 18-foot boa, when the next largest seemed to be maybe 12 or 13 feet.) Theoretically, if even a husky king or corn snake became wrapped around a toddler's neck, it could at least choke the kid into unconsciousness.

    At the same time, a predatory attack by a snake almost invariably involves using the mouth to secure the prey before pinning it with the coils. Since this did not happen--the baby got bitten in the "crossfire"--I would say this was not a misdirected feeding response. Carpets enthusiastically strike and constrict even dead prey, and the bites HURT--a predatory attack would have the snake latched on with its jaws and the baby howling her head off.

    Cats are often credited with ESP, seeing ghosts, etc. Now, without going off into the paranormal (as I've often done in the past) there's usually a simple explanation for a cat--or dog--hissing or growling at invisible enemies or phantom noises. Quite simply, they hear and/or smell better than we can (cats are no shakes at scenting compared to dogs, but I'd venture they're still leaps and bounds ahead of us)and can detect the movements of rodents, snakes, bats, lizards, what have you, behind woodwork or in closets.

    The Egyptians valued cats for alerting families to the presence of venomous snakes or scorpions (and even for killing them, if the cat went that far) and I've heard from time to time of cats defending an owner...a case from England comes to mind of a cat who severely clawed the face of a would-be child molester. But I suspect the cat in this case was merely reacting to the presence of a huge snake in its domain and its hissing was fortuitous, not a conscious effort to warn its owner.

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  2. Thanks, James. I'm finding different opinions on the temper or irritability of carpet pythons--any opinion on that?

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  3. Well, there you hit on an interesting topic. I personally find them among the best of the larger snakes to work with--big enough to handle and captivate an audience, but not big enough to be dangerous (realistically)--and any bites I've sustained have been connected either to sloppy feeding practices or trying remove patches of unshed skin, rookie screwups. The snakes were otherwise perfect and it took a lot to rile them. Conversely, a friend of mine--an old-school animal man who's had more than his share of bites, stings, scratches and diseases in the line of duty--reports that, with the exception of my carpets (he got them as part of a swap we did some years back) all the carpets he's dealt with have been nasty, unpredictable and prone to biting.

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  4. It sounds like you were a good influence on them :).

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