Pythons eat humans very, very rarely. Not because they’re nice, but because we just happen to be particularly tough to swallow, and reptiles hate hard work!
Pythons are amongst the largest snakes of all, and capable of taking down large prey. Surprisingly, however, they seem to avoid taking on humans. Whilst several species grow large enough to eat people, they rarely do so for one reason: our wide shoulders make us extremely difficult for them to swallow.
In this article, we’ll take a look at whether pythons really do eat people, and how safe their owners are. When we get down to the facts, you’ll quickly realise the potential danger from these snakes is more than a little exaggerated.
After all, I’ve been keeping pythons since the age of twelve and I’m still here!
Do Burmese Pythons eat people?
In case you haven’t noticed: Florida has a big problem with invasive species, including Pythons. I can’t remember how many species have gone wild there, but there’s at least 40 species of non-native reptile, arachnid, fish, and mollusc that are established and breeding.
For their part, the invasive Burmese Pythons in Florida have gotten a huge amount of attention from the press. Really, it’s only natural that locals ask whether these snakes are capable of eating people.
Whilst true that Burmese Pythons have killed and eaten people in the past, it’s extremely rare. So rare in fact, that you’re much more likely to get struck by lightning, or win the lottery.
Humans have not been killed or eaten by pythons in Florida. However, they are known for preying on pets and other small animals.
Wildlife officials in Florida believe that if the pythons are not stopped they may greatly harm wildlife in the region. Burmese Pythons are pretty docile with humans, but they love eating mid-sized birds and mammals.
How does a python kill a human?
Obviously a python kills a human the same way it would any other prey item: through constriction. It grabs hold with its teeth, then wraps around you and squeezes until you asphyxiate.
Contrary to popular belief, pythons do not crush their prey. They just squeeze so tight it can’t breathe. When you can’t take a breath, you suffocate very quickly. At the same time, it’s thought that constrictors exert such intense pressure that it literally stops your heart beating (this has only been scientifically proven in boas, however).
That’s not the whole story when it comes to pythons killing humans, though. There’s only four species of python that have killed a human and had it confirmend with an official, conclusive autopsy. These are:
- African Rock Python
- Southern African Rock Python
- Reticulated Python
- Burmese Python
If you check out the table below, you’ll notice they all have something in common…
|Species||Scientific Name||Distribution||Maximum Adult Size|
|Central African Rock Python||Python sebae||Sub-Saharan Africa||16-20 feet|
|Southern African Rock Python||Python natalensis||Southern Africa||14-19 feet|
|Reticulated Python||Python reticulatus||Southeast Asia||20-28 feet|
|Burmese Python||Python bivittatus||Southeast Asia||18-23 feet|
Each one of these snakes has a maximum length over 12ft. A python has to be really, really big to kill a human, and has to be massive to eat one of us.
I would say that it is extremely unlikely for a a python under 12ft in length to kill a human. It’s also worth mentioning that all of these species are very heavy-bodied and muscular as adults. Slender species that grow to similar lengths are nowhere near as strong.
Can a python eat a full-grown human?
Reticulated, African Rock, and Burmese pythons are among the very few species of snakes that grow large enough to gulp down a human. However, it is still extremely rare for them the eat adults, and cases of them eating a full-grown man are almost unheard of.
In fact, almost every case recorded has involved female victims, young teenagers, or children. The main reason for this is that the shoulders of a fully-grown human are just too wide for a python to swallow.
In the wild, very large pythons feed on a variety of prey, including:
- muntjac deer
- large rodents
- water fowl
- large birds
- wild pigs
- other reptiles, including crocodilians
All of these have one thing in common – that is that they lack shoulders. A python can swallow them head-first, and the limbs neatly fold back against the body. When they try the same approach with us, they get stuck at the shoulders and usually give up.
Why do pythons kill their owners?
At this point, it’s important to clear something up: pythons are no more dangerous than dogs, and are no more likely to kill their owners. You are much more likely to hear about a python killing someone in the news, though.
For some reason, it seems to be a regular occurrence that people abuse dogs, then the dogs go on to attack someone fatally. It just gets a lot less attention from the press than if a big, scary snake does it.
Statistically, you’re much more likely to be killed by a dog than a snake in the US, according to the most recent statistics from the CDC’s Wonder Database. Take a look:
|Animal-related deaths||Number of deaths in 2019|
Notice how ‘death by python’ wasn’t included as a category, and how there were only 5 deaths from snakes overall? Strange, considering there are literally hundreds of thousands of pet pythons in the US. Obviously, what I’m trying to tell you is that pythons do not regularly kill their owners. It’s rare, and if it happens, someone got something very wrong.
Three reasons they might kill their owner
Though it’s extremely unlikely, a big python can kill you. You should give it the care and respect you’d afford any large pet with specific husbandry needs. There are three reasons why pet pythons might kill their owner, and all they’re all linked to care:
- Strarvation – this is an obvious one. Big snakes need big food, and will do anything to survive if they aren’t fed enough. It would be hard for a python to swallow a human, but it will try if it’s starving. Pythons are famous for not eating often, but their appetite varies depending on their breeding cycle and age. They may need more food than some owners anticipate.
- Neglect – there are many ways in which owners may be neglectful. One type of neglect is not providing a safe, securely locking enclosure. This will allow a python to escape, and possibly result in an accident if it has been underfed as well.
- Treating it like a toy (and fear of heights) – what’s the worst thing you can do with a huge snake? Put it around your neck! Every time I see someone on TV trying to look tough by putting a big snake around their neck I cringe. It’s rare, but believe it or not some snakes are afraid of heights and freak out if put around someones neck. To feel safe, they hang on as tight as they can, and end up strangling the human.
Are pythons aggressive to humans?
Pythons are not famous for biting but they tend to have a defensive nature when in danger. These species of snakes only bite humans to protect themselves.
Otherwise, they are very quiet, shy, and non-aggressive. There have been instances where a python has bitten a human hand mistaking it for food.
Notwithstanding, some studies suggest that reticulated pythons attacking humans is reasonably common in some extremely remote areas. In some parts of the Phillipines and Indonesia, for example, hunter gatherers are regularly attacked by Reticulated Pythons.
This is a unique circumstance, however, where humans are directly competing with the snakes for food, and spending a huge amount of time in their habitat.
How often do snakes eat humans?
Around the world, the number of recorded cases of humans eaten by snakes each year is so low that there is no official number. You’re much more likely to be killed by insect-borne disease, crocodiles, hippos, big cats, lightning or a car crash.
Attacks on humans do happen, but even then the offending pythons don’t often manage to swallow their victims. Overall, it’s safe to say that we really aren’t one of their preferred foods!
Again, it’s probably because our wide shoulders make us difficult to swallow. If we were say 30-40% smaller, they’d probably try to eat us more often.
It is possible that a snake can digest an entire human body along with the bones. It is mostly because snakes have a very unique digestive system that can expand a lot of energy to increase their capacity.
However, the snake needs to pass the clothes otherwise it can be life-threatening for the snake itself. All-in-all, a python is just better offer hunting for a nice gazelle, rabbit or wild pig.
What happens when a python eats a human?
When a python attacks a human first the snake bites. Then within a few seconds, it completely wraps its powerful coil around the victim’s body.
This cuts blood circulation from the brain, blocks airways, and also prevents the chest from expanding. All these factors result in the quick death of the victim. Pythons are huge animals with powerful muscles. This is what helps them to move and constrict it.
If the python is big enough it can swallow a human completely. However, despite having a powerful digestive system it may take them over a month to completely digest the human body.
Can you survive a python bite?
When a python bites the victim is likely to experience puncture wounds, bruising, scratches, or (rarely) deeper damage on the inside. These bites are extremely painful if a really big snake is involved.
Having been bitten by a few pythons and boas myself, I’d liken the feeling to lots of needles sticking in you at once. Fortunately, it often doesn’t really do a lot of damage. It can bleed a lot though.
So the answer to this question is yes – you can survive a python bite. In fact, you will always survive a python bite. Pythons only ever rely on their bite as a method for grasping prey. It is their muscular strength that allows them to constrict and kill it.
Snake-eating human video
Every once in a while you do see a case of a python reportedly eating a human, that is supported by testimony from the local authorities. Such as the following…
According to reports, a 22-foot python swallowed an elderly woman in Indonesia in 2018. The disturbing footage of the incident went viral on the internet. The remains of the body were found inside the snake. The woman was a worker in a rubber plantation in the Jambi province.
When she did not return home for two days, her family got worried and started searching for her. The incident was confirmed when her husband came across a giant reptile with a bulging stomach.
Do pythons eat humans? Conclusion
To wrap up (no pun intended) I’m going to say that pythons do not generally eat humans. It is an extremely rare phenomenon. This is especially true when you consider the fact that literally hundreds of millions of people live within the natural ranges of python species I’ve discussed in this article.
It would seem that pythons don’t look for humans as prey, and find us difficult to eat. In the rare cases where a python does eat a human, it’s only under two circumstances:
- When humans are in direct conflict with the snakes for food, e.g. living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle
- When someone keeps a python as a pet, under neglectful or abusive conditions