Thrashing scaled bodies and lashing tails throw up the lakeside mud as a pair of awesome reptilian predators writhe around in a deadly embrace. Coiled muscle and primeval power clash together, but as the hours take their toll it becomes obvious there can only be one winner…
The day had started out so differently. It was a sunny March morning in Queensland, Australia. Writers Tiffany and Travis Corlis were enjoying a spot of breakfast before a canoe race meet at the picturesque Lake Moondarra.
Little did they know that their idyllic sports day was about to be forgotten as the spectator sport of a deadly predator grudge match took center stage. Their quiet breakfast by the lake was going to be nudged off the menu by an altogether more epic meal.
Travis and Tiffany were interrupted by their friends shouting for them to come and see something amazing. A clash between two reptiles had caught their attention. Fortunately, Tiffany had her camera and she was able to take pictures of the events as they unfolded.
“Our local canoe club had a race meet on the lake – the battle was actually taking place at their finish line. We went down to the water’s edge. By that stage the croc was still alive and was fighting to keep its head above water,” Tiffany said.
“The fight began in the water – the crocodile was trying to hold its head out of the water at one time, and the snake was constricting it,” Tiffany recounted. It’s a deadly place for the crocodile to be – the snake’s thickly muscled body marks it as a constrictor.
Although a lot of snakes that kill by constriction lack venom, they hardly need it. They bite prey to latch onto them and coil their bodies around victims to prevent blood flow to vital organs. You don’t want a snake to get a crush on you….
The serpent was later identified by National Geographic as an olive python while it was asserted that its wrestling partner was a Johnson’s crocodile. It can’t have been an easy fight, for crocodiles are deadly predators in their environment and their bodies are covered with armor-like scales.
Crocodiles rely on ambush techniques. Their teeth are incredibly sharp, designed for holding rather than chewing. They try to drag victims into water to drown them, or roll their bodies while biting their future meal to tear chunks off their body in the infamous crocodilian “death roll.”
“The snake was firmly wrapped around the croc … they had quite the struggle in the water,” Tiffany recounted. “Just unbelievable.” Her husband Travis added, “It was an ongoing battle. We were just standing there in amazement watching it.”
Unfortunately for the crocodile, it was outmatched – at around three feet in length, it was overpowered by ten feet of muscular squeezing scales. Even so, the prehistoric predator was never going to go out without a fight and the battle lasted for nearly five hours.
“[The snake] would roll the crocodile around to get a better grip,” said Tiffany, describing the fierce primeval battle. “And [it would] coil its body around the crocodile’s legs to hold it tight.”
Ultimately, the crocodile was unable to escape the rolling coils of the python and the monster snake dragged its subdued prey onto the muddy lakeside. When the serpent finally let go of its enemy, it was clear that the croc was dead.
The snake’s next move stunned witnesses, but after such an epic struggle, it wasn’t going to go without its meal. “After the crocodile had died, the snake uncoiled itself, came around to the front, and started to eat the crocodile, face-first,” Tiffany recounted.
South Dakota Reptile Gardens’ Terry Phillip said that olive pythons are “known for being phenomenally powerful, pound for pound, and for feeding on large food items.” They can gulp down prey up to the same size as them. That’s one heck of a mouthful.
To those who witnessed it, this battle was an amazing spectacle. The fearsome reputation of crocodiles makes the snake’s victory seem all the more amazing. In nature though, these epic tussles actually take place quite frequently – we just don’t often get to see them.
Bryan Fry, who works at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Science in Australia, explained to the Brisbane Times: “Crocs are more dangerous to catch but easier to sneak up on. The problem is they are risking being injured or killed, so they have to be judicious.”
It took ten minutes for the python to devour the crocodile. “When you actually looked at the snake, you could actually see the crocodile’s ridges, legs and everything inside its belly,” said Tiffany.
Snakes don’t care much about the size of their meals; their jaws are not designed for power but for flexibility. They have two bottom jaws called mandibles that can split with the help of their flexible connecting muscles, tendons and ligaments.
The snake then “walks” its body over its dinner and waits for the digestion process to take care of its meal. After its feast, Tiffany said the python was “definitely very full. I don’t know where it went after that – we all left, thinking we didn’t want to stick around!” You can’t blame them for that.