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An African rock python in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve.

An African rock python in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve.

Photograph by Michel Denis-Huot, Hemis/Corbis

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic

Published August 6, 2013

Two boys found strangled to death by an African rock python in New Brunswick, Canada, on Monday were victims of one of the world's most vicious snakes.

There are 26 species of pythons, and even among that group, rock pythons have an especially nasty reputation, said Kenneth Krysko, senior herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

Africa's largest snake, the 20-foot-long (6.1-meter-long) African rock python can't be easily tamed like other snakes, such as the more commonly kept Burmese python, Krysko said.

They're so ill-tempered that "they come out of the egg striking," he said in a 2009 interview.

"I personally don't see why people need to have these things as pets—they're not good pets and look at what ends up happening," Krysko said today. "I was shocked to hear about this."

The snake escaped from its enclosure and through the ceiling of the apartment where the boys were visiting.

Dangerous Reptile

In its native habitat of sub-Saharan Africa, the African rock python eats small mammals, antelope, warthog, herons, and other animals.

On rare occasions, rock pythons are known to have attacked people, and there are at least two verified reports of people being killed by rock pythons in the wild.

In recent years the rock python has invaded parts of Miami, Florida, a state already being overrun by alien snakes.

Pet breeders unprepared for the pythons' ferocity may have released them, Krysko said. (Watch a video of a rock python eating an antelope.)

Like the Burmese python, the African snake is a constrictor. Lacking venom, it kills animals by encircling and literally squeezing the life out of them. The African rock python also has long, curved teeth that can inflict deep wounds, according to the Jacksonville Zoo.

An African rock python can eat almost any warm-blooded animal that is small enough to get down their gullet. Pythons have flexible jaws and skin that allow them to consume large prey—for example, they can open their mouths wide because their lower jaws are loosely attached to their skulls. (See a picture of a Burmese python that exploded eating an American alligator in the Everglades.)

It's unknown why the snakes attacked the boys, but Ian Recchio, the curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo, told National Geographic that "when [snakes] go through all the trouble and exert all the energy to bite something and constrict it, it's because they're hungry generally."

Added Krysko: "Down here in Florida we're focused on animals in the wild. Sometimes we just forget about what can happen when you actually have them in captivity—now you're forcing them to be around people.

"It's really horrible."

39 comments
Lelyn Williams
Lelyn Williams

Maybe in South Africa a recent within the year a photo was circulating the Internet with a young maile child with left leg engulfed in the snake's mouth.


I have seen a Internet photo of a boy about 12 with one leg completely engulfed by a snake and at least three Europeans standing and not attending to the boy.  Did anyone see this or captured it.  Send information or copy to LWill29aol.com.  Would like to know more about the scenario and if the boy lived.

Uko Ifeanyi
Uko Ifeanyi

Never keep a constrictor in an enclosure that is not 100% sure, for the snakes are real escape artists and will never stop looking for an escape out of their enclosure.

nathan thomas banister
nathan thomas banister

mr price it killed them both at once so its strange i have never have heard of one killing two people let alone kids together is :(

Rickie Nurse
Rickie Nurse

I once owned an African Ball python, a very lovely creasure and I can tell you from experience that I had to recommend a snake as an exotic pet other than the common garter snake, it would have to be the Ball Python.

It's an extremely docile animal, very hard to provoke and can easily be maintain by a novice to snakes as long as you do not have a phobia of snakes.

My step-daughter at four years old would consistantly pick up my snake and walk around the house with her draped around her neck. My Ball Python was six feet long and she had never bitten me or anyone that came in contact with her till the day she died.

However I would recommmend for any person wishing to have a snake of any kind in close proximity within the confinds of their home, to first read up carefully about the animal and what is required on your behalf to manage and supervise it's up keep before you create a danger for yourself and other around you.

Thelma Bennett
Thelma Bennett

I totally agree with Mr. Price.  A snake, espcially a python does not go around killing prey just for the hell of it.  Although I read that this type of snake kills and stashes its prey for later consumption, it is hard to believe that these 2 boys, at their ages,  were contricted to death without a sound??  It  is very hard to swallow this story and I think there is more to it so I will stay tuned.   

Michael Price
Michael Price

I want to understand why and how it killed one boy and then killed the other one.  Or did it kill them both at once?  Doesn't a hungry constrictor kill, crush and then devour their prey, as opposed to killing every living thing in the room and then eating none of it?

I think there is much more explaining to be done about this incident.

Christine Dell'Amore
Christine Dell'Amore

Thanks for the addition information, G Willks. Indeed this article is about the snake, M. Pratt, so people can learn more about the species. Roderick, good catch on venom vs. poison, I'll fix. I think teeth is OK, the Florida Museum of Natural History refers to them as teeth: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/fl-guide/Pythonsebae.htm. Also I'm no expert! :) Benjamin, I'll update the story to reflect the newest info. 

G Willks
G Willks

"Pythons have flexible jaws and skin that allow them to consume large prey—for example, they can open their mouths wide because their lower jaws are loosely attached to their skulls."  

In addition to this information I would like to add a note from Vertebrates: Comparative Anatomy, Function, Evolution, Fourth Edition. 

"The great freedom of rotation between elements of the kinematic chains, the independent movement of each, and the ability of flaring the flexible jaws outward to accomodate bulky prey all account for the suppleness of snake jaws. These processes, not disarticulation, permit snakes to swallow (although slowly) relatively large, whole prey" (Kardong 264 - 265).

Just some extra information to help explain how snakes devour large prey!

M. Pratt
M. Pratt

I would recommend everyone reading the news articles posted about this incident.  The snake wasn't a "pet" and there is a lot more information available than what's in this article.  This article is about the species of snake, not the incident in New Brunswick.

Roderick Spode
Roderick Spode

Poorly written, supposedly by an expert!

 'Lacking poison" - Snakes possess venom not poison

"The African rock python also has long, curved teeth" -  Teeth!? you must mean fangs. 

Coming to the topic at hand - What sort of a nutcase has a python for a pet, get a dog u moron.


Benjamin Singer
Benjamin Singer

By "Canadian government" do you mean the RCMP? They are the federal police force, but they are NOT "the government." Secondly, your story should be updated, as currently the police are saying the snake was not kept in the store, but in the apartment above the store, where the boys were staying. It evidently escaped it's enclosure, travelled through a ventilation shaft, and fell through the ceiling into the living room where the boys were sleeping.

Julie Hendrickson
Julie Hendrickson

It's about respecting nature. Maybe one day humans will be the pets. we'll have a different viewpoint then.

Gizzard KooKoo
Gizzard KooKoo

Irresponsible place lets a large aggressive animal like that escape. Shame on their part. and shame on the media for only bringing attention to snakes when some one dies. Nobody ever talks about all the good keepers out there that love their animals and have never been hurt. Typical typical 

Fajar Setiawan
Fajar Setiawan

Typical humans. Always want to be in control of everything.

Shea Joy
Shea Joy

It's ludicrous to call a snake a pet. A curiosity, but not an animal that is domesticated and needs humans for care and company. I think we should ban selling snakes as pets (it's cruel to their prey too); certainly in Florida. 

Tirua Afex
Tirua Afex

If they are known to attack humans whats the use of keeping them as pets.

Chi-chi L'amour
Chi-chi L'amour

@nathan thomas banister Please tell me more would love to hear the full story the leadings up to the attack the actual attack and the aftermath would be really interested to hear your story.

J. J.
J. J.

@Michael Price They don`t "crush", but that's besides the point. 


Snakes killing more than one prey at once is not unheard of- although this is the first time I hear about it concerning a python. Its also not rare for a snake to leave the victim uneaten, especially if it realizes- after the kill- that its too big for it to swallow, or is unpalatable in some way. Not saying that everything happened just the way we are told- just saying it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Wendy Jones
Wendy Jones

@G Willks So many say that they 'unhinge' their jaws to swallow large prey when in fact, the upper and lower jaw aren't really connected, is that right?  

'

Cid Grassman
Cid Grassman

@M. PrattThis snake certainly was a pet, in a pet store no less. This practice has gone on long enough in North America and needs to be banned.

David Peterson
David Peterson

@Roderick Spode They do have teeth and many of them! By very definition a fang is a tooth. Also venom by definition is a poisonous fluid. There are many types of poison and venom is one kind. I have dogs and pythons as pets by the way. Rasied some lions as well .It takes all sorts to make the world go around.

Luke Smith
Luke Smith

@Roderick SpodeIf the snake is not venomous, then there would be no fangs. Instead there would be long curved 'teeth' to grip the prey during constriction.

Cid Grassman
Cid Grassman

@Gizzard KooKoo Problem is even the good snakes can eventually grow to be 4+ meters long as well... at which point they become dangerous as well.

Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy

It isn't ludicrous.  Not all pets are dogs.  My son and I love our ball pythons.  They are gentle, inquisitive, and beautiful creatures (and top out at about 4-5 feet long... certainly not a giant).  Before I had a child, I owned large Burmese and Indian pythons.  Also gentle and inquisitive - but a degree of caution must be maintained.  As would certain dog species - Presa canario for instance.  I chose NOT to keep the giants with children in the house.  Common sense to me. African Rock Pythons are NOT gentle at any size.  VERY few people keep them, because they are highly problematic and will generally NOT tame down in captivity.  As for being cruel to prey items, most responsible keepers feed them items which are shipped frozen and were humanely euthanized.  No different than any of the meat items we consume every day. It doesn't take long to get a snake to accept previously frozen food, even supposedly finicky eaters like ball pythons.  My next step is to switch them to chicken drumsticks.  It really isn't that difficult.  Saying that all snake sales should be banned, is just silly.  Not everyone likes the same things as you do.


Art Allover
Art Allover

@Shea Joy  I highly disagree, we can learn to live with and train all animals it is just a matter of expectations and patience. 


James Hunt
James Hunt

@Tirua Afex Dogs are known to attack humans. It's not about keeping the animals, it's about the knowledge and ability to keep the animal.

antoni nseir
antoni nseir

@Wendy Jones @G Willks  Not quite the jaws are connected with muscles and ligaments still but the bottom jaw bone has two halves with very stretchy tissues

Chi-chi L'amour
Chi-chi L'amour

@Patrick Roy Surely you do not mean chicken drumsticks produced fr human consumption? The food that is produced for us is not necessarily safe for animals especially snakes due to them being treated with all kinds of chemicals pumped with salt water etc. I hope you mean chicken  you have produced yourself.


Cid Grassman
Cid Grassman

@Patrick Roy I think the problem is the ratio of responsible to irresponsible snake owners seems problematic given the lack of regulations in North America regarding how these animals are housed and fed and general lack of education. Live feeding, for example, not being discouraged enough in bylaws or within the snake owner community. Just go on youtube to see the horrible videos many snake owners post of weekly "feeding time".

Scott Stelter
Scott Stelter

@Patrick Roy I own an African Rock, and she is quite gentile. And while I understand she is the exception, generalizations should be avoided.


Brenda V.
Brenda V.

@Art Allover @Shea Joy why should we?? leave animals alone. why do humans think they have to have everything under their control. nobody cares about the animals, just their own egos. Yeah, we can learn to live with them..as in respect their territory and make room for them but why train them?

Dana Kelly
Dana Kelly

@James Hunt @Tirua Afex It's extremely irresponsible to compare keeping Afr. Rock Pythons to keeping dogs.  Afr. R Pythons are extremely aggressive and dangerous, and no amount of "handling or knowledge" is going to tame them.  Dogs have been bred and domesticated over hundreds of years, and those that are aggressive are not allowed around humans, and are euthanized.  What kind of ludicrous statement are you trying to make? 

Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy

@Scott Stelter @Patrick Roy I hear you.  My Indian was extremely gentle too, but not all are.  I've handled a pussycat tame anaconda before as well. Nonetheless I still wouldn't keep one around small children.

Chi-chi L'amour
Chi-chi L'amour

@Brenda Vawter @Art Allover @Shea Joy  Dont you just love the do gooders, What gives you the right to assume we do not care about our animals? I have a burmese python she is in a purpose built enclosure correct temperatures diet and space i also keep other animals all of which are healthy and happy by training we are not talking circus tricks we are talking safety. Eg the big snakes a simple tap on the nose to train them to associate a tap with you entering their territory and that it is not feeding time. Then when it is feeding time no tap. Otherwise they just think its feeding time every time you open their enclosure its safety nothing more nothing less. 

Other animals are "trained" To enable us to administer medication if and when the time comes not everything is black and white you know.

 People have been keeping animals for century's Its not the keeping the animals it is the education that you should be preaching as people will continue to keep them whether you like it or not so help to do it correctly

Chi-chi L'amour
Chi-chi L'amour

@Dana Kelly @James Hunt @Tirua Afex When people say "pet" Its a word that is used doesnt have the same meaning as when you keep a dog as a pet.


Reptiles amphibians fish are all exhibits all there to be admired yes some can be dangerous and comparing them to a dog is not as ridiculous as you are making out.. People are aware of how dangerous their "pet" snake is and take precautions. Where as it is forgotten that a dog that is so friendly can turn and rip a human apart snakes are kept under lock and key dogs are kept roaming free around the family home. 



Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy

@Dana Kelly @James Hunt @Tirua Afex 
Hundreds of years?  Seriously? Try ten thousand years.  But that isn't the point.  Responsible keepers, should be able to maintain African Rock pythons if they want to.  The trick is being a "responsible keeper".  There are plenty of private collections out there that surpass Zoos.  And honestly - almost NO ONE keeps these things.  There are far more tractable giants than this. 

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