World's Longest Snake Dies 3 Days After Being Captured

reticulated python in Malaysia
The Malaysia Civil Defence Department holds up a 26.2-foot-long (8 meters) python discovered on Penang island. (Image credit: The Malaysian Star news | YouTube screen shot)

A humongous reticulated python measuring 26.2-foot-long (8 meters) long was captured at a Malaysian construction site last week, but the snake died three days later while laying an egg, news sources report.

The Malaysian snake was longer than five grand pianos (each piano is about 5 feet, or 1.5 m long); a pickup truck (those are about 19.3 feet, or 5.8 m); and almost as long as an adult giraffe standing on the head of another giraffe (giraffes are about 14 feet tall, or 4.3 m).

It's also longer than Medusa, the longest captive snake on record, according to Guinness World Records. In October 2011, Medusa, a reticulated python (Python reticulatus), measured 25.1 feet (7.67 m) at her home in Kansas City, Missouri, Guinness World Records reported. [In Images: Hungry Python Eats Porcupine Whole]

People spotted the enormous serpent at an overpass construction site in Paya Terubong, a district on the island of Penang, the Guardian reported. Construction workers immediately called emergency services on Thursday (April 7); authorities worked for 30 minutes to capture the roughly 550-lb. (250 kilograms) beast, the Guardian reported.

Reticulated pythons, which are native to Southeast Asia, are the longest snakes in the world, said Stephen Secor, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alabama, who wasn't involved with the Malaysian snake's capture. These snakes are indeterminate growers, meaning they continue growing indefinitely, although they typically grow at a slower rate in old age, he said.

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Reticulated pythons are also slender, so they're not the heaviest snakes, and Secor doubts that the 550-lb. measurement is accurate. An anaconda might weigh that much, but not a reticulated python, he said.

For example, even though Medusa was just 1.1 feet (0.33 m) shorter than the new record holder, she weighed 350 lbs. (about 159 kg) in 2011, or a whopping 200 lbs. (90 kg) less than the newly caught snake. Those numbers don't add up, especially because Medusa is a captive snake and doesn’t have to actively hunt for food in the wild, so she's probably heavier than most reticulated pythons, Secor said.

Mysterious death

Secor is also intrigued because the snake died after laying an egg on Sunday (April 10). A snake that large could easily lay 75 eggs at one time, he said. Perhaps the snake was laying eggs, and one egg got lodged inside its body when the animal was captured. Snakes have two oviducts (structures that pass eggs), but a lodged egg can block the other eggs that have yet to be laid. The blockage can cause medical problems, and sometimes even death, he said. But not always — lodged eggs can also be reabsorbed into the body, Secor said. [7 Shocking Snake Stories]

Or, maybe the python was just starting to lay eggs when it died. A necropsy (an animal autopsy) would clear up matters, as a pathologist or other doctor would be able to see whether more eggs were left inside the snake, he said.

Alternatively, the snake could have died because it was traumatized from its capture, Secor said. "I don't know why the snake died," he said. "It probably didn't die because it laid an egg."

Although the snake is dead, the specimen could still be used to educate the public. For instance, a taxidermist could preserve the serpent, or its skin could be put on display at a museum, Secor said.

Python skins are often saved, but this makes it hard to officially measure them afterward, as skins can be stretched. It's also hard to measure pythons because of all the kinks, or bends, in their bodies. Even so, larger snakes may exist in the wild; in 1912, people reported that a 32-foot-long (10 m) python was discovered in Indonesia, the Guardian said.

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Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.