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Snake Swallows Man! (Analysis, cont.)

More of this Feature
Part 1: 'This Is for REAL!!'
Part 2: Snake Food
Part 3: Tabloid Tales
• Part 4: Rare Phenomenon

Totting up the claims of all these different sources, we have so far been told that the reptile in question is a python, a boa constrictor and an anaconda. Obviously, it can't be all three. My best guess after comparing the photographs with those in reference books is that the snake is a python -- not that that lends credibility to any particular version of events. All of these stories were plainly made up after the fact and deserve to be regarded as fiction or folklore.

Loose ends

No one seems to know where or when the photos were taken, let alone who snapped the shutter. We don't even know if they all came from the same camera. The first two match up with one another quite well, but the third picture (like the fourth, which only occasionally makes the email rounds) is strikingly different in coloration and quality. It's hard to tell for sure if we're even looking at the same snake.

Photos #3 and #4 could have easily been staged -- snake is cut open, half-digested prey is discarded, man (or boy) crawls into the carcass, picture is taken. The fuzziness of the photos doesn't help.


Do snakes ever swallow people whole? Maybe; maybe not. Pythons, boas and anacondas have been known on rare occasions to attack people -- even to suffocate and kill them -- but there's a noticeable dearth of documented cases of snakes consuming human prey.

By an odd coincidence, a May 2001 news item out of Serenje, Zambia carried by international wire services reported that a newborn baby was swallowed by a python literally minutes after its mother gave birth. This horrific story could be true and is just the sort of evidence we're looking for, but there remains room for doubt, given that the mother was all alone in the bush when it happened and the snake was never found. We only have the mother's word for what happened.

Snake attacks -- especially when the perpetrator is one of the larger specimens -- almost always make headlines. Why have we seen nothing in the papers (apart from the Weekly World News, I mean) about the awful event supposedly depicted in these photos?

I won't attempt to argue that no snake has ever swallowed a person, but it must be, without doubt, an exceptionally rare phenomenon. As to whether this well-traveled set of photographs constitutes proof, I can only venture an opinion: probably not.

Take the Poll: "How likely do you think it is that these photos really document a snake swallowing a person?"

Sources and further reading:

  • "Man Swallowed Whole by 25-Foot Boa Constrictor & Survives!" Weekly World News, 25 Jul 2000.
  • "Python Reticulatus." Univ. of Michigan Zoology Website.
  • "Python Swallows Newborn." The Namibian, 22 May 2001.
  • "Python Victim Uncoils His Tale." The Namibian, 27 Feb 2001.
  • Smith, C.R. "Man-Eating Snakes." Siar Anthranir Herpetology Website (cached).
  • "Snake Food." Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  • "Snakes Alive!" Urban Legend Zeitgeist.

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