Why (And How) A Reticulated Python Managed To Consume An Indonesian Woman

June 21, 2018

It has happened for the second time in as many years. A reticulated python (Python reticulatus) has eaten a human in Indonesia, this time a 54-year-old woman who was checking her vegetable garden in an area known to be frequented by the large constricting snakes. Last year, a 25-year-old man was swallowed by a reticulated python in the Southeast Asian nation. In both cases, the snakes were measured to be 23-feet in length. 

reticulated python

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The reticulated python is considered the longest snake species in the world. It is also one of the heaviest.

Experts have speculated that the attacks by these large constricting snakes may be due to issues such as deforestation to make way for palm oil production, which negatively alters the landscapes where these large reptiles live. 

“The larger ones love to crawl and climb, and they get a lot of their food from the forests and the trees,”  Max Nickerson of the Florida Museum of Natural History told National Geographic.  And when those forests are cut down to make way for palm oil plantations, the natural prey of the reticulated python, small mammals, birds, and deer, disappear along with the trees and rainforest plants. 

The woman, Wa Tiba, was tending her vegetable garden the night of June 14 when the attack occurred. The area in which her garden is located is supposedly also an area frequented by snakes. When Tiba didn't return the next day, villagers searched the area and found her sandals and a machete but no sign of her. The reticulated python was located about 50 meters from her belongings, bloated. The villagers killed the snake and when they they opened the belly, Wa Tiba's body was found inside, according to the Jakarta Post

While it does seem rare that humans get eaten by large constricting snakes, it does occur. A 2011 study of reticulated python interactions with the Agta Negrito tribe on the main island of Luzon in the Philippines shows that the snakes do attack humans. The study determined that from 1934 to 1973, 16 members of the tribe were attacked by the reticulated python, and of those 16, six of the attacks were fatal.

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The Agta Negrito are a small people; an adult male averages less than 100 pounds in weight. It was previously believed that it would be impossible for a reticulated python to consume a human because the thought was that the human shoulders are too wide for a snake to wrap its jaws around, but this has never really been the case, as studies have shown. 

This marks the second time in as many years that an Indonesian has been eaten by a reticulated python. The first occurred last year on Sulawesi island. Akbar Salubiro, 25, was working on a palm oil plantation when he was attacked and eaten.

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