Crikey! Australian Python Engulfs Tennis Ball

A coastal carpet python was found in Queensland, Australia, with a tennis ball in its gut.
A coastal carpet python was found in Queensland, Australia, with a tennis ball in its gut. (Image credit: Trish Prendergast)

A python in Queensland, Australia, got quite a scratchy surprise when the 5-foot-long (1.5 meters) snake gulped down a tennis ball this week. Luckily for the reptile, veterinarians were able to remove the sporting good before the python starved to death.

"[The snake] would've died eventually from starvation, as it wouldn't have been able to digest the ball or have anything pass it," Trish Prendergast, senior vet nurse at Townsville Veterinary Clinic, where the ball was removed, told Live Science.

A local resident spotted the bulging snake, a coastal carpet python (Morelia spilota mcdowelli), Monday (Feb. 6) in a backyard in Belgian Gardens, a suburb of Townsville in Queensland, and called a snake catcher to remove it. Brian West, another licensed snake catcher from Townsville Vet, did the honor, Prendergast said.

The nonvenomous snake species is one of the most common pythons in Australia and has been known to reach 14 feet (4 m) in length, according to the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. (WIRES) in New South Wales. [Beastly Feasts: Amazing Photos of Animals and Their Prey]

An X-ray revealed the snake had chowed down on a tennis ball. (Image credit: Trish Prendergast)

"I put a plastic tube down its throat and put some paraffin oil down it [as lubrication] to help the ball come up easier," said Prendergast, who is also the reptile coordinator at North Queensland Wildlife Care Inc.

She massaged the snake's body while keeping constant pressure on the bottom of the ball. Finally, after about 20 minutes, the snake regurgitated the ball.

The snake is doing great, she said, adding that it was fed today (Feb. 9) and will be released back into the wild next week.

As for why the python partook in a tennis-ball meal, she said the ball likely smelled like prey; a dog, bird or perhaps a frog had touched the ball.

This python is not alone in its odd dining habits. In the summer of 2015, a python bit off more than it could "chew," engulfing a 30-lb. (13.8 kilograms) porcupine. Park rangers in the Lake Eland Game Reserve in South Africa found the engorged animal dead, though they aren't sure if the spiky snack caused its demise. Another python, a 16-foot-long (5 m) Burmese python, gulped down three deer in the Everglades before it had to be euthanized. In addition to the remains of the venison meal in the python's gut, the biologists found a whopping 14 lbs. (6.5 kg) of fecal matter.

Original article on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.