A viral photo, most likely from Southeast Asia, shows a rarely seen encounter.
Recently, a lethal battle between two scaly titans ended in a draw, leaving behind a twisted, grisly scene.
One of the combatants, a king cobra, lay strangled. The second, a reticulated python, was also dead. Bitten behind its head by the cobra and suffering from the hooded snake’s deadly venom, the python attempted to defend its life by squeezing its attacker to death. It succeeded.
But neither survived.
“It’s crazy, but it’s something I could easily see happening…it’s a dangerous world out there, to eat other big snakes and things that could kill you,” says Coleman Sheehy of the Florida Museum of Natural History, who says the deadly clash likely occurred somewhere in Southeast Asia, where the two snake species overlap.
Both snakes are superlative among their slithering kin, and as these things sometimes do, a photo of the corpses ended up being posted on Facebook. There, it quickly attracted the attention of herpetologists and others marveling at the unusual sight (we’re all familiar with the ouroboros, a symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail, but who’s ever seen a dead python balled up around a dead cobra?).
That’s true even when two large species of snake are involved.
King cobras are the longest venomous snakes in the world, with some spanning 18 feet. And, as their genus name Ophiophagus suggests, king cobras specialize in eating other snakes. When these cobras attack, they target the base of their victims’ heads, then kill by injecting a venomous cocktail that quickly shuts down nervous systems and paralyzes their prey.
“They can pretty much tackle most snakes they come across,” Sheehy says.
Reticulated pythons, on the other hand, are the longest snakes in the world, with some being more than 30 feet long. They use their muscles to strangle meals, which normally comprise mammals—not other snakes.
“If there was a predatory event here, it was king cobra to python,” Burbrink says. “And it didn’t work out for either of them.” (World’s longest snake has virgin birth.)