African Rock Python Has Prickly Problem After Swallowing Porcupine

An African rock python near Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa literally came up against a prickly problem after swallowing a porcupine whole. The snake died after its innards were thoroughly punctured by its dinner.

The deceased African rock python definitely bit off more than he could chew (or digest anyway) over the weekend at the Lake Eland Game Reserve near Port Shepstone. A mountain biker came across and photographed the bloated 3.9 meter African rock python, stretched out next to a cycle track. The image to the left below shows the photo taken by the cyclist and on the right shows the remains of its prickly meal.

Reserve manager Shona Lawson said that various people had sent photos of the African rock python to their Facebook page and at first they thought the snake had eaten a young impala or a warthog.

“They sent pictures to our Facebook page and the snake ended up becoming quite a celebrity. On Tuesday last week we went out on the cycle track on foot and managed to find the snake again. It looked to be quite a lot smaller than the pictures. At first we thought it could have been a young impala and a warthog that it had eaten.”

They had found the snake dead under a rocky ledge where it had been trying in vain to digest its spiky meal.

While the reserve’s general manager, Jennifer Fuller, couldn’t confirm the exact reason why the African rock python died, on examination it was found that several of the porcupine quills were lodged in the snake’s digestive tract. In fact the African rock python’s innards had been punctured by dozens of the needle-sharp quills belonging to the 13.8 kg porcupine dinner.

Fuller said that the snake had fallen off the ledge and they aren’t sure if it died beforehand, or possibly its fall drove some of the quills into the African rock python’s digestive track on landing.

IOL quotes a snake expert, Johan Marais, as saying that the pythons are known to eat porcupines as well as other animals with sharp horns.

“In cases where they are disturbed by people after a big meal they usually regurgitate their meal as they move with difficulty – and regurgitating a porcupine is obviously problematic with the sharp quills.”

“So my guess is that the human disturbance [the mountain biker] caused the snake to try and regurgitate its meal and that caused its death.”

News24 has published several before and after photos of the African Rock Python and its dinner.

Apparently this kind of injury is reasonably well known around the world with a 3.6 meter python killed by porcupine quills in a nature reserve near Lamu in Kenya three years ago.

It’s not just the African rock pythons, however, as the US Geological Survey has reported two similar cases involving boa constrictors who died a prickly death after eating a porcupine.

Reportedly while many predators are warned off by the visual threat displayed by porcupines, as they curl up and extend their quills, snakes apparently rely on thermal or chemical sensory mechanisms to catch their prey at night and miss the warning signs completely.

Brazilian snake researcher Marcelo Duarte published a study about this in 2003, stating that he had recorded several cases of snakes being discovered with quills protruding from their heads, stomachs and other body parts.

While snakes such as the African rock python swallow their prey face first and digest them using strong stomach acids, a sudden fright, such as a human coming across them just after they ingest the prey can cause the snake to regurgitate its meal, with disastrous consequences in the case of a porcupine.

The Inquisitr recently reported the story of a pet python who needed an operation after swallowing barbecue tongs. That snake, however, survived the experience.

[Image: African rock python (not the one in the story) after eating an impala ewe CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Chris Wilcox]