"It's not something you see every day"
March 3, 2014 12:35 AM   Subscribe

There Can Be Only One Snake v Crocodile in Northern Queensland
posted by modernnomad (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
[includes some great photos]
posted by modernnomad at 12:37 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Croc stories are really the bastion of the NT News... but they seem to be preoccupied with cash for dog bollocks yarns.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 1:20 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Who do you root for in a fight like this?

love the tags, although you missed a couple: awesome and fighting.
posted by marienbad at 1:33 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is audio from the photographer calling into the radio on Smh.com.au.
She was really calm except for a touch of "nature is so cool" about her voice.
I reckon I would have been a little more freaked out.
posted by bystander at 1:39 AM on March 3, 2014

I was cheering croooocadile-urns
posted by mannequito at 1:44 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heard this on the radio this morning, except I missed the first bit and just heard:
"*something something* won a fight with a crocodile... [at this point I am assuming they were talking about a person fighting a crocodile] ...and ended up swallowing the crocodile whole"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:47 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

...snakes could sense their victim's heartbeat, and let go when it stopped, preventing it from using more energy than required.

Sweet, never losing another fighting with a giant constrictor ever again. Just gotta go practice stopping and then re-starting my heart.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:25 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

That meal will make an interesting turd.
posted by three blind mice at 2:38 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Who do you root for in a fight like this?

1) In a fight like this (ie: one that is in Australia), you don't 'root' for either side. That'd be weird.
2) The snake. Fuck that croc, it had a lot of growing to do.
posted by pompomtom at 4:09 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

They fought for FIVE HOURS! Damn!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:17 AM on March 3, 2014

All God's creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on a telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they've got now...
posted by Melismata at 5:03 AM on March 3, 2014

Waiter, this Queensland Turducken leaves a lot to be desired.
posted by rory at 5:08 AM on March 3, 2014 [15 favorites]

Five hours, yeah. Crocodiles don't need to breathe very much compared to us warm-blooded mammals (a huge amount of our metabolic output goes toward managing our body temperature) so strangling one to death is probably a pain in the ass. Same goes for stopping the heart; you can prevent it from pumping if you squeeze the chest hard enough, but a croc's oxygen demands are such that its heart doesn't beat that much anyway, so it can presumably go on struggling for quite some time. Of course, it's going to be burning oxygen at top speed when it's fighting for its life, but I'm not surprised that it took a long time to kill. Crocs are tough.

Plus, the snake is presumably going to be a little extra cautious (to the extent that snakes are even capable of such things). It may have taken it five hours to finish off the crocodile, but if the croc had got in just one good bite the whole fight would've been over in a matter of seconds or minutes, and the snake would've been the one getting eaten.

By the way, I'm disappointed that no attempt was made to identify the snake other than as 'probably a python.' You'd think that a newspaper would have a herpetologist they could call to ask, or failing that spend a few minutes googling around to see what types of snakes live in that area which get big enough to plausibly eat a medium-sized crocodile. There can't be many. Oh well.
posted by Scientist at 5:09 AM on March 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

spend a few minutes googling around to see what types of snakes live in that area which get big enough to plausibly eat a medium-sized crocodile.

It would be quicker to google what type of snakes there *don't* get big enough to eat crocodiles.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:49 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm just dreaming of this being the beginning of a Street Fighter-esque adventure for the snake. After every victory, the snake will board a plane and a triumphant voice will announce the destination (China! BRAH-zil!). Snake vs. Lion! Snake vs. Elephant (Yoga Trunk!)! Snake vs. Polar Bear!

Somehow, I think the tournament would go badly for our snake.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:07 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

OK, I had to try. I don't know much about Australian snakes (while I sometimes jokingly call myself a herpetologist, my knowledge is really limited to a single species of central African puddle frog) but I think it was an Olive Python, Liasis olivaceus.

They are one of few Australian snakes that regularly get into the ten-foot range, their distribution includes the area where the event occurred, they like rocky areas near water which fits the description as well, and their color and patterning (while of course somewhat variable) matches well with what we can see in the pictures. It would help if we could see the snake's head more easily, but you can't have everything. I'd go with L. olivaceus until someone with better knowledge comes along and corrects me.

It's a pretty awesome story with pretty lazy reporting, and I don't mean just the lack of snake ID. Why did they point out that the people who saw it were surprised when the python, having killed the crocodile, then ate it? What other reason would it have had for killing it, religious differences? I've no doubt that it was astonishing to see it actually swallow the crocodile whole, but come on. Also, while it's a cool story and I can see writing it up into a minor article like this, snake-on-crocodilian fights aren't all that uncommon. Just last week we were talking about a Burmese Python in the Everglades that ate an alligator and then exploded.

Also, tacking on a few vague sentences about how "most snakes have flexible jaws" there at the end? Does it really hurt to do even a tiny bit of research, BBC Australia? Rather than just parroting in a bet-hedging way something that you think you remember David Attenborough mentioning on TV one time, why not look up what he was on about and give the readers a morsel of education to go with the sensational snake-eats-croc linkbait?

It's actually pretty cool. All snakes (and many other reptiles, though not crocodilians) have a double joint in their jaw. Where the mammalian quadrate bone (connecting the mandible to the rest of the skull) is short and immobile, in snakes it is long and jointed. This means that they can open their mouth once and then open it again, cantilevering their whole jaw forward and downward by swinging their quadrate out. They also have a jointed palate, so they can hinge the top part of the mouth upward a little for extra space. (Actually it may only be squamate lizards who do that, I don't remember for sure.)

The real party trick, though, is that instead of having the two sides of the lower mandible fused together with cartilege and bone, they are instead connected by a highly elastic ligament which lets them spread their lower jaw laterally as well, stretching the chin apart to really widen things up. That I know of, no other group of organisms can do that last move. (Note: at no point does the jaw become dislocated or "unhinged.")

Amazingly, I could not find an animated gif of a snake skull doing its thing. However, here is a static image of a fully-deployed snake skull which should get the point across. And now that I've probably put more time and effort into the subject than the original reporter (not that that's saying much, but on the other hand how 'bout a little kickback, BBC?) I finally feel satisfied. This story was just too cool for such lazy treatment.
posted by Scientist at 6:12 AM on March 3, 2014 [17 favorites]

They fought for FIVE HOURS! Damn!

Well, once you grab onto a crocodile you are pretty much committed for the long haul. Letting go and getting bit isn't an option, so five hours might seem like a bargain.

Amazingly, I could not find an animated gif of a snake skull doing its thing

I'm surprised that there isn't one easily found; I know I've seen animations of it on nature shows.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:15 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was surprised too! I looked pretty hard, but the signal-to-noise ratio may have been too low for me to cut through given that I am working from my phone. Most snake-jaw-related multimedia are photos and videos of snakes eating implausibly large food items. Not surprising really, as it's truly astounding to see a snake swallow something that is really quite a lot bigger than its head. The internet, as ever, is long on spectacle and short on education. If you can come up with a nice animation, more power to you!
posted by Scientist at 6:25 AM on March 3, 2014

Here is an ok video of the bones moving, and here is an astounding video of a snake swallowing an egg far larger than its head.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:38 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why did they point out that the people who saw it were surprised when the python, having killed the crocodile, then ate it?

This is the Territory. You'd expect the python to get the goon from the tinny first.
posted by hawthorne at 7:07 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

The summer before last I happened upon a garter snake swallowing a large, live and rather unhappy-looking toad. I didn't want to scare the snake away from what might have been a rare feast, so didn't watch the whole swallowing process.
posted by Flashman at 7:15 AM on March 3, 2014

Snake eats wallaby.
posted by armacy at 7:18 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure that's a freshwater croc, not a saltie. It's a bit rubbish of the BBC not to at least make the distinction.

Just north of where this took place, Lawn Hill Gorge, you can go swimming even though there are [freshwater] crocs there - provided you don't get too close. It is, in my view, among the most beautiful and peaceful places in all of Australia.

So - if it were a freshwater croc you're talking about an animal that is far less aggressive, and which would probably never try and eat an adult python - they only eat a couple of kg of fish a week.

But impressive from the python though.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:21 AM on March 3, 2014

Just an occasional reminder from nature to us that despite all our fancy things, all it'd really take is a snake big enough with an idea in his or her head to make things very unpleasant.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:23 AM on March 3, 2014

Bill Bryson has some great things to say about Australian wildlife.
[Australia] has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world's ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures - the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish - are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. ... If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It's a tough place.
― Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
posted by Melismata at 7:30 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Poor Schnappi.
posted by winna at 7:35 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bill Bryson has some great things to say about Australian wildlife.

Reminds me of the Terry Pratchett's take on things (on the Discworld, there is a strangely familiar continent called "XXXX"):
Almost all animals and plants in XXXX are dangerous; when Death requested a book about the dangerous creatures of XXXX from his library, he was subsequently hit by a large pile of books consisting of the various volumes of "Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses and Lichens of Terror Incognita", the total books going up to Volume 29C Part 3, while a request for information about the harmless creatures merely produced a note saying "Some of the sheep".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:04 AM on March 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Holy crap!
posted by Mister_A at 9:01 AM on March 3, 2014

Metafilter: a snake swallowing an egg far larger than its head.
posted by bird internet at 9:46 AM on March 3, 2014

I'd guess the snake is pretty defenseless while it's digesting. Maybe if they'd stuck around a bit longer they could have snapped a crocodile inside a snake inside a crocodile.
posted by iotic at 10:47 AM on March 3, 2014

Snakes don't have it all their own way, mind you. Here's the picture that Wikipedia currently uses to head its Burmese Pythons in Florida article. It's got a crocodilian and a python in it, but the roles are rather reversed.

It's also one of the creepiest pictures I've ever seen. The alligator looks appropriately malevolent, but the snake (which is still quite obviously alive, for a little while longer anyway) just has that same blank but slightly sinister intentness that snakes always seem to have. In life there was probably quite a bit of thrashing around, but in the photo it just looks icy cold and aloof, despite the fact that the back half of it is already inside the crocodile's belly.

I realize that all this is a steaming load of anthropomorphism. I'm aware that it's borne of an unconscious interpretation of permanent morphological features on the faces of the two organisms, features which have nothing to do with expression of any kind. I get that it probably also looked rather different in real life, what with all the chomping and thrashing and splashing around, not to mention the blood. I still get the heebie-jeebies when I look at that python's face, though.

posted by Scientist at 11:07 AM on March 3, 2014

Here's a python eating a live alligator, so we can all have the same nightmares tonight.
posted by ersatz at 4:54 PM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Python intimidates alligator into a retreat, even after the gator had the snake firmly in its jaws...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:31 PM on March 3, 2014

/my face when Americans call slithering sockwozzas 'snakes'
/my face when Americans call toothy snaplizzies 'crocodiles'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:49 PM on March 3, 2014

That snake'n that croc gonna eat'cho face is whuss gunna happen
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:25 AM on March 4, 2014

I feel I have to point out that that video Dip Flash linked to of snake jaws is just way off. Who put that in the museum? It clearly shows the jaws just hinging up and down like a human's, when really what happens is that the quadrate swings down and forward, and then the mandibles swing down and outward, stretching apart at the chin. There are four different movements happening, of which the museum display only shows one. Doesn't make any sense at all why that's on display, it's totally misinformative.
posted by Scientist at 11:28 AM on March 7, 2014

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