Snake Eats Man

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Snake Eats Man #1

Online stories claim this python swallowed a man whole.
Is this a real photo of a python that swallowed a man whole?. Viral image

Description: Viral images & text
Circulating since: 2000
Status: Dubious

Example #1:
Forwarded email contributed by a reader in June 2001:

Snake... THIS IS FOR REAL!!

A CREW MEMBER ON A LAND OIL RIG IN AMAZONAS WENT OUT AND TOOK A NAP. YES, A NAP. HE WAS MISSING AND THIS IS WHAT THEY FOUND.

ANYONE WANT TO GO TO THE AMAZON????

Example #2:
Forwarded email contributed by a reader in January 2001:

Subject: : Read this before Camping...... in Singapore

This is scary.

Ok, this is unbelievable. The story goes that 3 military guys in Singapore were spending the night in the jungle. When they bedded down at night there were 3 of them, when they
awoke in the morning there were only 2. The 2 remaining men did not hear or see what happened to their partner during the night. The following photos show a python. They found it nearby. It was having trouble moving...

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Snake Eats Man #2

Did this snake swallow a man?
Viral image

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Snake Eats Man #3

A man supposedly eaten by a snake.
Viral image

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Snake Eats Man #4

Snake swallowed a man.
Viral image

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Analysis

Before jumping to the conclusion that whoever captioned the preceding images knew what they were talking about, consider that what you have just read is only one of many variants of the tale in circulation. Each gives a slightly different rundown of events.

There's another version, otherwise identical to the first, which claims that the incident happened in Venezuela, not Brazil. Still another says it occurred in Nouakchott, Mauritania. And another specifies the locale as the Philippines.

The victim's identity is as variable as the setting. Sometimes the person allegedly swallowed by the snake is described as an oil worker, sometimes as a hunter, sometimes a camper and, in at least one case, a child:

Apparently, three boys were sleeping in the jungle in South America when the other two woke up, one was missing and a huge snake was laying next to them. You'll see the snake in the first two photo's with the boy inside and the third one is when they cut the snake open to reveal the boy.

The variant below, contributed by a reader in March 2001, claims it "really happened" to a hunter camped out in the Brazilian rain forest:

Unbelievable but true

Just remember .... things could always be worse.

Be careful when you go camping.

This really happened In Brazil...Three Locals went hunting in the forest and did the usual during the day, they went to sleep. When they woke up the next morning, one of the guys was missing...

The other two searched for their missing friend and when they ran across this anaconda with a huge lump..... well they caught the anaconda and took it to town since they feared that their friend was the victim. Surprise: it was!

He was swallowed in one piece by a 17 FT anaconda. That's not a way anyone wants to go.

Or it could have really happened to this camper in Palo Duro Canyon, Texas -- a part of the world where, as we all know, everything is larger than life...

THE STORY IS THESE TWO GUYS WERE CAMPING IN PALO DURO CANYON OR SOUTH AMERICA, MAYBE. ONE OF THE GUYS WOKE UP IN THE MORNING AND HIS BUDDY WAS GONE. HE SENT FOR HELP TO FIND HIM, THEY FOUND THIS SNAKE INSTEAD. PICTURES 1&2 ARE OF THE SNAKE WHEN THEY CAUGHT IT. AND 3 IS WHAT THEY FOUND WHEN THEY CUT THE SNAKE OPEN, THE MISSING BUDDY!!

Tabloid tales

A more detailed account of what's supposedly happening in these photographs comes to us via the Weekly World News, a now-defunct U.S. tabloid newspaper renowned for such earth-shattering scoops as "Ape Gives Birth to Human Baby" and "JFK Was Shot to Prevent Him From Revealing Truth About UFOs."

According to an article in the July 25, 2000 issue of WWN, the victim was actually Pakistani tourist Amjar Bukhari, who was swallowed by a boa constrictor and spent "12 to 15 horrifying minutes trapped in the serpent's belly before workers at Nairobi National Park [Kenya] sliced open the enormous snake and rescued him."

"We sliced open the snake's belly and a pair of human legs tumbled out," one of the rescuers is quoted as saying. "At first we thought the man was dead — then I saw his foot twitch and we quickly hauled him out." The story says Bukhari survived, believe it or not, with a couple of fractured ribs and "minor burns from the snake's stomach acid."

Truth be told, the Weekly World News version of events is no more credible than the narratives circulating online. Historically, the paper's editors exhibited a great fondness for snake-eats-human stories with no evident interest in their veracity. WWN published two such items during the early 1990s, each illustrated with an identical World War II-vintage photograph of a python bulging with freshly consumed prey — and each telling a completely different story. One claimed the victim was a Japanese scientist; the other stated that the snake had swallowed six human babies. What had really happened, as another, unpublished photograph from the same shoot revealed, was that the snake had recently fed upon a small deer.

Python, boa constrictor or anaconda?

Totting up the claims of all these different sources, we have so far been told that the reptile in question is a python, a boa constrictor and an anaconda. Obviously, it can't be all three. My best guess after comparing the viral image with what I could find in reference books is that the snake is a python — not that that lends credibility to any particular version of events. All of these stories were plainly made up after the fact.

No one seems to know where or when the photos were really taken, let alone who snapped the shutter. We don't even know if all of the snapshots came from the same camera. The first two match up with one another quite well, but the third and fourth are strikingly different in coloration and quality. It's hard to tell for sure if we're even looking at the same snake.

Photos #3 and #4 could have easily been staged — i.e., snake is cut open, half-digested prey is discarded, man (or boy) crawls into the carcass, picture is taken. The poor quality of the images doesn't help.

Plausibility

Do snakes ever swallow people whole? Maybe, maybe not. Pythons, boas and anacondas have been known on rare occasions to attack people — even to suffocate and kill them — but there's a dearth of documented cases wherein big snakes consumed human prey.

Snake attacks, especially when the perpetrator is one of the larger specimens, almost always make headlines. Why have we seen nothing in the papers (apart from the Weekly World News, I mean) about the horrendous event supposedly depicted in these photos?

I won't attempt to argue that no snake has ever swallowed a person, but it is surely a rare phenomenon. As to whether this well-traveled set of images constitutes proof, I can only venture an opinion: probably not.

Sources and further reading:

Man Swallowed Whole by 25-Foot Boa Constrictor & Survives!
Weekly World News, 25 July 2000

Python Reticulatus (Reticulated Python)
Univ. of Michigan Zoology website

Man-Eating Snakes
Siar Anthranir Herpetology website (archived)

Last updated 11/29/15