Hoaxes & Rumors

Classic Viral Image: Did This Snake Eat a Human?

Classic Viral Image: Did This Snake Eat a Human?
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Does this photo show a python which consumed a drunk, passed-out man in India – or possibly a woman in South Africa?

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Known History of the Snake Photo

The origin of the photo is unknown, and it has been circulated with a variety of captions. Let’s take a look at the known history of this photo.

September 2012

The photo appeared on several websites, and was quickly re-posted on a variety of websites such as 9gag. One version included the caption, “A Python swallowed a drunken man who was sleeping on the street!!!!!” 

There were, however, no news accounts of a snake eating a human at that time.

snake-eats-person

January 2013

The image reappeared with a story that the snake had been caught after eating a person during a flood in Jakarta (Source). Another variant was also discussed on Reddit around the same time.

June 2013

On June 11, 2013 South African journalist Linda Laina Nyatoro posted the image on Facebook, stating, “Hey guys this snake is real it swallowed a woman, happened two days ago near Durban North.” Her claim that this attack occurred on June 9, 2013 is impossible, as the snake picture had already been circulating since at least the previous September.

The reporter has since removed the image from Facebook.

reporter-snake

November 2013

The image once again saw heavy circulation, after a blogger posted the image, this time with the victim being a ‘drunk man’ instead of a woman in South Africa. It received so much attention that BuzzFeed and the Daily Mail ran articles about it. A video appeared on YouTube which used the photo. That video was entitled “Python eats drunk man alive in India” and has over 8 million views as of this March 2016 update.

Can a Snake Eat a Human?

There have been rare occasions where snakes have eaten people, although these isolated incidents have usually involved children, as adult humans are typically too large for a snake to ingest. Consider this 2005 BBC story of a python which exploded when it attempted to eat a 6-foot alligator.

Mythbusters attempted to answer this question, with a somewhat convoluted response:

Well, if you’re an adult, you probably won’t get eaten whole, according to Deana Snell, Registrar at the Calgary Zoo. Although there have been reports of children and animals – including deer! – being swallowed by large pythons, it’s very unlikely that a fully grown human being would allow him or herself to get ingested by a serpent. “You’d have to be passed out beyond words,” says Snell.

So can a snake swallow a human whole? Yes. But it depends on the size and age of the person.

There was a heavily-reported incident of a 10-year old boy who was eaten by an African rock python back in 2002, but such incidents are considered rare.

“Eaten Alive” December 2014

On December 7, 2014, Discovery Channel aired a 2-hour special entitled “Eaten Alive” which featured a man in a special suit being “eaten” by an anaconda.

The show hinted at the image above, and displayed the following graphic in a segment about internet rumors of humans being swallowed by snakes.

discovery eaten alive hoaxes

This graphic appeared in “Eaten Alive” during a discussion of internet hoaxes.

“Humans aren’t anaconda’s prey of choice, but there are reports of constrictor snakes consuming adult humans around the world,” the announcer stated.

“The internet is full of images and stories of people being eaten by snakes and the vast majority of those, of course, are hoaxes,” herpetologist Shawn Heflick explained. “In order for a constrictor to be large enough to swallow an average size human, which is 5’9″ for a man, I think it would probably have to be in excess of 20 feet.”

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The show then told the true story of a man who was killed by a snake in Malaysia in 1995. He was not swallowed, but the jaws of a 23-foot reticulated python had fully engulfed his head.

In the end, the man in the special suite in “Eaten Alive” was never actually eaten by the massive snake, but was rescued after being constricted and lost feeling in his arms.

Bottom Line

It remains unclear what the snake in the photo consumed, although the likelihood is that it was not a human. It certainly wasn’t a woman in South Africa in June 2013, because the photo predates that claim by at least 9 months. The rare occasion when a child is eaten by a snake is usually heavily reported in the media, and there were no reports of any humans eaten by a snake when this photo appeared in 2012.

The December 2014 Discovery Channel “Eaten Alive” references the headline used for the photo in a discussion about internet hoaxes involving snakes eating humans.

Have you seen this photo circulating online? Tell us where you saw it and what the caption claimed.

Revised March 6, 2016
Originally published November 2013

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