Now I’m worried about how to escape a python attack

This poor woman.

Jahrah, a rubber-tapper reportedly in her 50s, had made her way to work at a rubber plantation on Sunday morning.

She was reported missing after failing to return that night, and search parties sent out to find her. A day later villagers found a python with what appeared to be a large stomach.

Locals later killed the snake and found her body inside.

“The victim was found in the snake’s stomach,” Betara Jambi police chief AKP S Harefa told local media outlets, adding that her body appeared to be largely intact when it was found.

I have questions. Pythons don’t move that fast, so how do they catch their prey? They just lie in wait and throw coils over their victim? Speaking from ignorance, that doesn’t seem that dangerous. Pigs have tusks, deer have sharp hooves, humans have knives and machetes — it seems like a good way for the snake to be seriously wounded. How quickly can they constrict? There is another article about how they attack.

They can reach lengths of more than 10m (32ft) and are very powerful. They attack in an ambush, wrapping themselves around their prey and crushing it – squeezing tighter as the victim exhales.

They kill by suffocation or cardiac arrest within minutes.

I guess I’m mystified by the actual, initial process, in the first few seconds of a python attack, which isn’t well explained. How does a 10m long muscular tube leap into action to surprise an animal? I’m missing something in the mechanism.

I’d rather not go to Indonesia and find out in person. Any snake experts able to explain it?


  1. CX316 says

    I believe they usually leap out, bite, then while holding on with the jaws wrap the body quickly around the victim (which is usually something smaller than a human)

    Think of them like a deadly slap-band

  2. wzrd1 says

    They typically bite and hold as they shockingly quickly wrap around the prey, then begin to constrict.
    Never conflate lack of speed in normal locomotion with speed of an attack. That error could easily become fatal.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    For me, the worst problem with python is that my editor sometimes automatically inserts tabs rather than spaces.

  4. Snarki, child of Loki says

    How about some Floriduh Man collect a pythons and drop them off in Mar-a-Dumbo?
    PPV, also, too.

  5. killyosaur says

    @Reginald Selkirk

    Sounds like you need to correct your IDE settings to prevent that. Otherwise suck it up and use the space bar (or switch to an editor that allows you to better control the spacing :D )

  6. bcw bcw says

    You could probably compare it with your spiders’ attack strategy where with initially entangle one part and then wrap tighter and tighter as the victim struggles.

    @3 writing some wrap-around code?

  7. StevoR says

    Wonder if the unfortunate victim here was already dead or sick at the time?

    Imagine she might’ve been sick and collapsed first or been more vulnerable due to having a medical episode or something maybe?

    Will the pythons eat carrion perhaps? I guess an autoposy might tell?

  8. raven says

    Playing with the Big Boys: Handling Large Constrictors › handling

    A rough guide recommended by most experienced snake keepers is to have one handler for every five feet of snake (every three feet is suggested for nervous or …


    If you are going to be attacked by a constrictor type snake, the rule is you need one person for every 5 feet of snake. To survive.

    It actually depends more on the weight and strength of the snake.
    I’m guessing in an emergency situation, you could get by with fewer people, especially if one of them is armed with a knife, machete, or other weapon.

  9. TGAP Dad says

    I have witnessed the speed of a python attack while snake-sitting (a 6-foot ball python) for our youngest child. I was hoping to get it on video, but the snake grabbed the rat and had it wrapped before I could move my thumb from a poised position to the button itself, to begin recording.It was that fast. Ordinarily the snake moves with a leisurely pace that would make a sloth look like a speedster. Had I not (almost) seen it with my own eyes, I would have been hard to convince.

  10. lasius says

    They even feed on small bears from time to time.

    The process is straightforward. They lunge from hiding and grab a hold of you with their powerful bite. Then they use their strong muscles to pull up to you and quickly wrap their body around you. You will not die of asphyxiation as is often believed, but usually of circulatory collapse as your venous blood is unable to return to your heart due to the pressure.

    But don’t worry, even the largest pythons rarely reach 6 meters in length and the 10 meter numbers are entirely fictional. No python would be able to eat you, PZ, but they could still kill you.

  11. xmnr says

    Snarki @4
    Amongst our vast problems down here are pythons—non-native, invasive, either escaped or released pets. They’re a problem with our native wildlife, up to and including alligators.

    Of course, the resident of Mar-a-Lago could be described as non-native, invasive…

  12. kestrel says

    These snakes will lie in ambush, with their markings making them resemble part of a leaf-dappled tree, or a rock. If something wanders close by they strike with blinding speed. Once they get a coil over the prey item that’s usually it for the prey… Although, as pointed out in the article posted by raven @#8 above, you are far more likely to be harmed or killed by dogs than by a large snake.

  13. erik333 says

    @7 stevor
    Weaponless surprised humans have no chance. Your only hope is to look too big to swallow, or it not being hungry enough to try. Maybe if you are holding a knife at the time, and dont drop it as you lose your balance, you might have decent odds.

  14. Rowan vet-tech says

    There’s a reason I will never own a large constrictor, and that’s because you cannot safely handle it alone. My corn snakes and ball python will have their food fully coiled in less than a second. Equating a large snake with slowness is the same fatal mistake people make with hippos on dry land. Big and ponderous doesn’t mean they can’t have explosive moments of incredible speed

  15. Stacey Zook says

    I can share a personal experience that might be helpful to understand how this could physically happen. Years ago I was an intern at a reptile zoo. The interns were charged with cleaning cages and one of the cages had a 12 foot anaconda. Getting her out went smoothly. Putting her back in did not. I grabbed her perfectly behind her head with my right hand. She immediately wrapped her neck and body around my right arm and shoulder immobilizing that part of my body. It was near-instantaneous. My hand felt like it was going to break. There was no way I could leverage her body off mine with just my free left hand, and she also had about 6 feet left to fight me with if she had the chance. Fortunately, she did not have the chance because there were two other interns with me and they very quickly removed her. She was safely moved to her (now clean) cage and I was completely unharmed. The entire process of me grabbing the snake and her grabbing back probably took less than two seconds. She would not have been able to eat me, but she definitely could have killed me. I think it’s also important to note that she would not have grabbed me if I had not grabbed her. Her response was a perfectly fair response to being grabbed by an intern.

  16. bcw bcw says

    Based on the news stories, the way to protect yourself from a python/boa constrictor is to carry a large crocodile with you at all times.

  17. monkeysea says

    Grandma told the story about the python in the backyard in the jungle with a deer inside. It was behind the hedge, just at the edge of the places The Kids played. It couldn’t move, it had a whole deer inside & needed a few days/weeks to digest that meal & be on its way to the next.
    Grandma was born in El Salvador, closer to 1880 than now. She could find 4-leaf clovers & spot anything out of place in the pattern. In 1930’s California, The Boys (as she called ’em), would take her hunting because she could spot anything moving against a brushy-piney background. All the uncles said she was the best spotter ever.
    The snake is always watching. You gotta learn to see it when you’re young. She said It’s Easy, just look at everything at once. Then she’d bend to pick a 4-leaf clover & hand it to a grandkid. “See?”

  18. BACONSQAUDgaming says

    They basically grab hold of the victim with their mouth and quickly wrap their coils around it. Snake skin is surprisingly tough, so it is difficult for the prey to injure them.

  19. says

    Just because their locomotion is slow doesn’t mean their muscles are slow. They can strike extremely fast, and then pull their body around their prey very fast. It’s not exactly easy to watch, so don’t hit ‘play’ if you don’t want to see it, but the first clip in this video shows a python attacking a pig, so you can see how quickly they move on largish animals. (Most of the remaining clips are smaller animals like rats, where the pythons are lightning quick).

  20. brightmoon says

    Constrictors are fast when they go after prey . They just crawl slowly . My ex got bit by our 6ft boa because he stupidly decided to hand the snake the live rat. I told him to just drop it and the snake bit him instead of the rat. It mistook his hand for a rat. This was a mild mannered, pleasant, laid back animal normally . The fangs went almost all the way through his hand but the snake let him go almost immediately.

  21. Bill Gascoyne says

    They don’t have to “wrap around” or encircle as in coiling a rope. In many cases they can form their length into a kind of zig-zag and then fold that around the prey. Death is by suffocation, not allowing the prey’s lungs to expand.

  22. tbp1 says

    Carl Hiaasen’s most recent book, Squeeze Me, starts off with a rich Trump supporter at a fancy Friday beach resort being eaten by a feral python. Hilarity ensues.

  23. brightmoon says

    Oh by the way you can take their tail and unwrap the snake. I’m not sure if that will work if you’re prey and even a 6ft one is stronger than a human. She wrapped partly around my head to examine the light fixture and my MIL startled her a little . I got the worst headache I’ve ever experienced and she just tensed up and wasn’t squeezing hard. NEVER let one of these wrap completely around your neck .

  24. brightmoon says

    Stacey I trained mine by tapping 2x on the cage to let her know I was going to take her out . They aren’t stupid !

  25. wsierichs says

    I once held the middle of an 18-foot python while 2 other people held the tail and head. My arms did not quite go around its body and I could feel its muscles were very powerful. A lot of animals are capable of moving extremely fast for a few seconds, either to attack prey or escape a predator. A lot of these animals don’t have the endurance for a lengthy run. I’ve read dogs can sometimes catch rabbits because if they can run long enough, the rabbit gets exhausted more quickly than the dog. I’ve never double-checked that, but I know a lot of very fast animals don’t have a lot of stamina. So a snake may move slowly most of the time, but that’s conserving energy for a quick strike. Check out how fast a rattlesnake can strike.

  26. flange says

    I saw the article in the Washington Post. I thought it was standard click bait, and I took the hook. The article had plenty of details (name of victim, location, narrative, etc.) and a photograph. The photo showed a group of Indonesian-looking people standing around a jungley open area, with what might have been part of a snake on the ground.
    While I think it could have happened, 50/50 it’s a hoax.

  27. birgerjohansson says

    In “The Hurt Locker” terrorists had welded a kind of metal cage around a victim. If you wear a similar-looking cage I am pretty sure the metal will be stronger than the snake muscles.
    So, if you move into snake coutry you need an overall of leather or kevlar against venomous fangs, and a steel cage around the torso and neck.
    Or just hire a predator as your bodyguard.

  28. birgerjohansson says

    If PZ is not worried about King cobras, we have one at a zoo in Stocholm that escaped into some of the countless cavities you find inside a building.
    They can remain static for months before they need food so it will take time to wait it out.

  29. rblackadar says

    One reason it’s so fast is that no “throwing of coils” is required. Once the jaws have grabbed hold, the snake just has to curl up in one powerful motion from the head end downward, spinning like a watch spring as it goes. The surprised and overpowered victim, held fast by the snake’s head, spins along until it is in effect rolled up.

  30. larpar says

    birgerjohansson @31
    Way back when I was in 6th grade (mid ’70s) I brought a garter snake to school and the science teacher let me leave in on display in the 3rd floor science classroom. After a couple of weeks, it escaped. Months later the janitor found it in the basement gym.

  31. unclefrogy says

    how did that happen
    well they will not have to look outside for it. I would check out areas around the boilers in a few days.

  32. birgerjohansson says

    There was a gap in the ceiling where the lamp was mounted. In the lightbulb days, it would have burned anyone slithering past, but with LED lightning the cobra could crawl through the tiny gap without problems. And then it was in the interstital space between ceiling and the next floor and could explore at leisure.

  33. hemidactylus says

    My first hands on experience with a snake was a scarlet snake (not scarlet king). Sweetest little things you could ever meet. I was smitten. I later got bit by an ornery corn snake. Not fun. Was around for a captured indigo awaiting a radio transmitter for later tracking (under a permit). Gorgeous animal.

    Ringnecks…check. Caught baby racers and a coachwhip. Ornery until they know you’re a heat source. Fed a pet ribbon snaked live fish by hand and live pinkies to a speckled king not by hand because reasons. Yeah, no! Ate one while squeezing the other. Trials of life!

    Never understood why pythons are desired pets. I watched a show about snake freaks keeping mambas and…wait for it… dead! Saw a python at a pet store large enough to be fed rabbits. No!

    Thank you Hurricane Andrew! Yep. Even still has an echo!

    Corns, ribbons, garters, kings…keep those as pets. Just be cautious about salmonella contamination! Pythons? Why? Mambas? Why?

  34. DanDare says

    Here in Oz I get the occasional 3m long python visitor. It hangs in trees and shrubs and often hunts bt dangling down from above and swaying slightly. When prey passes in striking distance it swings as a bite strike and its bulk falls down onto the prey and coils around it. 2 seconds tops.