December 30, 2012

The Rainbow Serpent and the Mystery of the Disappearing Chickens

Over the past 6 months we have had a lot of trouble with disappearing chickens.  Every few weeks or so, we would visit our chickens and find that one was missing.  Gone without a trace, not even one lonely feather was left.

On Christmas Eve, as we went to feed our chickens in the morning, we were greeted with this … 

water python

The mystery of the disappearing chickens was solved.
And we promptly called the snake catcher to come and collect this fellow.  He told us that this snake is a Water Python (Liasis fuscus).  The scales have an iridescent colour with reflects the colours of the rainbow, meaning that this snake is often associated with the Rainbow Serpent. 

The Rainbow Serpent is an Aboriginal Australian creation being.  The Rainbow Serpent created the rivers and valleys of northern Australia and is the controller of water resources. 

The Rainbow Serpent is seen as the inhabitant of permanent water holes and is in control of life's most precious resource, water.  There are many stories of the Rainbow Serpent.  Here is one, as recorded by Dick Roughsey and read by David Gulpilil. (the book is The Rainbow Serpent, by Dick Roughsey).  This book is a great favourite of my sons.

What did my sons wonder as they saw this amazing snake?  “I wonder how the chicken got in there” and “Will the snake give our chicken back?”

The snake’s head is much smaller than a chicken, so, how did that chicken fit in the snake’s mouth?
Snakes swallow their food whole.  Snakes have a very flexible lower jaw with joints that allow them to open their mouths wide enough to swallow prey larger than their head (see a picture here).  The size of the prey that a snake can eat depends on the size of the snake, larger snakes are able to swallow larger prey.  The snake catcher informed us that water pythons favour birds as a food source.

Will the snake give our chicken back?

No.  Pythons are constrictor snakes.  That means they wrap their bodies around their prey, slowly squeezing (constricting) until the prey is no longer breathing.  Our chicken was already dead before the snake swallowed it. 

But food in the snake’s stomach can takes time to digest.  Having swallowed a large meal, the snake’s mobility is reduced until the food begins to digest.  Because of this the snake make regurgitate its food if it is threatened to improve its chances of escape.  If that happened, I’m happy to leave our chicken and the clean-up to the snake catcher.

Want More?
Wildlife Fun 4 Kids has some great snake-related posts with activities for children.
Eight Great Ways to Appreciate Snakes
Teach your Child to Be Snake Safe
I’m sure most of my knowledge came from years of watching David Attenborough, but I did check what’s what with these references.  I did not have anything more reliable immediately to hand, so if you are a snake expert feel free to correct me.

How do Snakes Swallow Large Prey?” from Life’s Little Mysteries
“Snake” from Wikipedia

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