Python Expert Speaks Out About ‘Rare’ Case of Woman Swallowed by Snake

by Shelby Scott
Photo by: Mark Kostich

A 54-year-old woman in Indonesia suffered a horrifying death earlier this month after a giant 20-foot python strangled and swallowed her whole. In the aftermath of her death, a python expert is speaking out about the “rare” case. He’s also sharing whether or not we have reason to fear these occasionally massive reptiles here in the United States.

“This is extremely rare,” Bruce Jayne, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati, explained. While there are cases of snakes eating humans, the “vast majority” involve massive pythons and people of “really small stature.”

As for the Indonesian python, which has since been killed, the massive serpent achieved an unbelievable 20 feet in length. But per Jayne’s statement, “It takes pythons a really long time to attain these really enormous sizes. As a result, there are actually very few of these really, really large pythons.”

In Florida specifically, Burmese pythons have become a serious problem. Fortunately, unlike the monster python in Indonesia, this invasive species doesn’t grow much larger than 12 feet. As such, it would be incredibly difficult for a Burmese python to swallow a human.

Nevertheless, for those worried about the invasive species, Jayne had some simple, clear-cut advice.

“Leave it alone and walk away,” the biologist told People. “It’s that simple. It’s not rocket science. Don’t mess around with it.”

How Pythons Kill

Whether you’re a man or a mouse, death by snake is certainly a terrifying way to go. And thanks to new research about pythons specifically, we’re learning that it’s not solely suffocation that leads to vertebrate deaths.

Speaking about pythons, Jayne assured readers that these large snakes are actually relatively slow. Essentially, if you can walk at a normal speed, you’d be able to put yourself out of the creature’s range. However, it’s their strikes that we need to be worried about.

Because snakes are able to strike at a length of about half their body length, the snake that ate the woman in Indonesia would, theoretically, have been able to propel itself at its prey from 10 feet away, hitting its mark. And though the initial strike is something to be concerned about, it’s the positioning of their teeth that makes their strikes truly fatal.

“The tips of those teeth point to the back of their mouth,” the snake expert explained, “so when prey or people try to pull out of the mouth of the snake, those teeth actually sink in deeper. So, it’s very hard to disengage. Their teeth are very specialized for basically keeping prey in the mouth.”

After sinking its teeth into its prey, the python then begins to constrict. Historically, experts believed people died during encounters with pythons and snakes in general because the constriction prevented them from breathing.

“If you think of how you breathe,” Jayne said, “your ribs expand and contract, and if a snake tightens every time you exhale, then the problem is you can no longer inhale once those coils are tightened.”

New evidence shows, however, that when pythons strangle their prey, it’s the loss of blood flow that ultimately kills. “You can kill a vertebrate much faster by stopping blood flow than by stopping breathing,” Jayne said.