"s 2015 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by HISHAM H.

The following is an excerpt available free of charge from the Journal of Herpetology:

The Herpetology Research Foundation, 14 March

Volume 88: 32-19

ISSN: 0087-4211 (Print)

ISSN: 2264-7396 (Online)

Snakes usually avoid prey items that are too large. However, there are several reports of snakes, especially young or starving individuals, that have met their demise through ingestion of prey that was too large.

On 17/08, I came across the sight of a fresh carcasse of a female hippopotamus near the border of the park, in a mud wallow which was once a waterhole. A perfunctory examination indicates that death was due to complications during birth. Samples were taken, and the body was left were it was. As it was late, it was decided that we return tommorrow to conduct an autopsy if the carcasse was still unmolested.

The next day, I noticed an exceptionally large rock python (estimated to be around 20 feet in length) draped around the carcasse and was mouthing the snout of the hippo, seemingly preparing to swallow it. 

As the location was not far from base camp, a live feed was set up to record this interesting event, as direct observation was unfeasible since snakes could take many hours to swallow very large prey.

Over the next few days we recorded the following gruesome spectacle.

The python had started the swallowing process at the snout of the hippo. Normally, snakes usually use coils of their body to brace themselves and maneuver the prey item as needed to help the process of swallowing. In this case it was impossible due to the size and weight of the prey item.

It took the python 10 hours 37 minutes to engulf the head, but appeared to be defeated by the shoulders and front limbs. However, the snake continued to struggle, and over a period of 19 hours it gradually managed to engulf the shoulders and then the front limbs.

Progress was agonizingly slow. As expected, the snake's body was now grostequely distended with its gargantuan meal. In fact, its skin, stretched beyond its limits, had torn in several areas, revealing large patches of raw, pink flesh.

Over the next 48 hours, the snake slowly swallowed the rest of the hippo, its reptilian skin tearing as it was unable to accomodate the enormous bulk of its food. It should be noted that the hippo was on muddy ground, soft enough to let the snake slowly slip itself along along the underside, despite being pinned by the hippo. Also, the snake had swallowed the hippo at an angle so its windpipe would be clear of the mud.

As the python approached the end of the carcasse, it was clear how much of a toll the process had taken on it. Several blood vessels in its mouth and throat had burst, and blood dripped steadily from its mouth. The ligament connecting the two halves of the lower jaw was torn, and both halves of the lower mandible had become completely detached from the skull. A long tear extended down the throat. Eyes were ruptured. All down the length of snake bloated by the hippo, the skin had torn as the enormous meal proceeded down its body. At this point, the exposed raw flesh was starting to heavily bruise, dark patches of blood indicated internal hemorrhage, and blood trickled freely from the wounds.

Finally, upon completion of the grueling act, the python performed several movements as if to bring its mouthparts back together, but it had achieved a pyrrhic victory.

Shortly afterwards, a long horizontal tear slowly appeared along the length of the body, and eventually the body wall tore open, exposing the spit-slicked hide of the dead hippo.

After the rupture, the snake continued to writhe for 7 hours and 23 minutes, then it lay still. 8 hours later we approached it, and determined it to be dead.

The snake measured 23 feet 6 inches in a straight line from snout to tail; an exceptional length for an African rock python, and certainly the largest documented and properly measured specimen. The hippo was 17 feet 2 inches over the curve of its body.

An autopsy revealed the following:

The skull had ruptured, which resulted in herniation of the brain. Trachea partially crushed. Lower mandible detached as noted above.

Lower three feet of intestine, plus oviducts full of developing eggs, had prolapsed through the cloaca, squeezed out by the extreme pressure of the hippo entering the snake's body. 

Severe damage noted to all organs. Digestive tract split open, lung collapsed and compressed, heart ruptured, liver and other organs crushed into jelly. Severe muscle damage noted as well. Vertebral bodies escaped damage, although many intervertebral discs had ruptured or herniated.

Samples were taken for toxicology and pathology. The whole brain was excised for lab analysis.

It was astounding how the snake managed to remain alive long enough to complete the ingestion of its colossal meal.