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8 Inanimate Objects That Have Been Swallowed By Snakes

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Most serpents are not what you’d call discerning diners. If it’s warm or smells like food, it might be fair game to a hungry python. Such open-mindedness is a double-edged sword because, as a great many veterinarians can attest, the limbless reptiles will sometimes devour things that were never meant to be ingested. Here are eight of the wildest items to have ever turned up in a snake’s stomach.

1. BARBECUE TONGS

One day in 2015, Queensland man Aaron Rouse was feeding a rat to Winston, his pet Woma python. Suddenly, things got out of hand. With surprising vigor, the two-year-old snake grabbed hold of both the rodent and Rouse’s feeding tongs. After Winston refused to surrender the forceps, his owner walked away and left them inside the cage, assuming they’d be released. Instead, once the python finished his supper, it ate the utensils for dessert.

“I was dumbfounded,” said Rouse. He immediately reached out to Dr. Oliver Funnell, a vet who teaches at Adelaide University, who was equally flabbergasted by Winston’s predicament. “Through the skin you could feel the bumps on the end of the tongs, and at the other end the relatively square hinge could be seen obviously protruding,” he later told the press. Rather than let Winston try to regurgitate the contraption, Funnell’s medical team put the snake under the knife. Rouse’s beloved pet made a full recovery.

2. A CERAMIC EGG

“The egg smelled like chicken,” Verona, Pennsylvania resident Alan Hollingsworth explained. In 2014, Hollingsworth’s neighbor, Al Filat, went out to inspect his chicken coop when he came upon an uninvited guest. Coiled up inside the hut was a large black rat snake with a suspicious lump in its midsection. A hardy constrictor, this species is known to supplement its usual diet of birds and small mammals with the occasional egg. Unfortunately, Filat’s snake had accidentally eaten a large, ceramic egg that was left in the coop. (Imitation eggs are often used in the chicken business as a means of encouraging hens to start laying their own.)

Hollingsworth took the serpent to a nearby animal shelter, where it underwent surgery and survived the embarrassing ordeal.

3. GOLF BALLS

Chicken breeders who can’t afford ceramic eggs will sometimes use golf balls instead. These present a real problem to wild serpents, which tend to mistake the white, dimpled spheres for bird eggs. Back in 2012, kind-hearted South Carolinians rushed a hapless yellow rat snake to a veterinarian after it had gobbled up one farmer’s Titleist-brand ball. Earlier that year, an Australian carpet python was forced to endure a similar operation when it engulfed not one but two golf balls.

4. A TEDDY BEAR

Last March, a family living on Queensland, Australia’s Gold Coast received quite a shock when a six-and-a-half-foot carpet python slithered across their backyard. Terrified, they grabbed their pet dog and evacuated the premises. Left behind in the melee was a teddy bear named “Ted,” who happened to be the pooch’s favorite chew toy. Defenseless and covered in dog saliva, poor Ted smelled like an easy meal to the python, who swallowed Ted whole.

Shortly thereafter, local snake catcher Tony Harrison apprehended the intruder. The snake was lucky enough to receive medical attention, where an X-ray scan confirmed Ted’s fate. Through an emergency operation, Dr. Matthew Hollindale extracted the plaything, much to the delight of its canine owner. The python, too, was saved—and given 15 stitches as a souvenir. Since then, the reptile has been released back into the wild.

5. LIGHT BULBS

Talk about a light meal: In 1986, a four-foot pine snake passed through the backyard of Lynn and Carman Clark in Gainesville, Florida. The Clarks were chicken-keepers who illuminated their coop with 15-watt light bulbs. “When the bulbs burn out, we just throw them onto the yard,” Lynn would later admit. One poor snake happened upon two of the family’s discarded bulbs, thought that they looked like chicken eggs, and ate them.

The reptile was soon spotted by the Clarks, who couldn’t help but notice two unnatural-looking bulges protruding from its sides. So the couple brought the snake to a vet at nearby Santa Fe Community College. From there, it was transferred to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida, where the bulbs were removed in a 45-minute operation.

Elliott Jacobson, a wildlife medicine specialist at the university, noted that if the critter hadn’t undergone surgery, the glass would’ve shattered inside its stomach and killed him. Instead, the snake was set free after three weeks of observation. “His future looks bright indeed,” Jacobson quipped.

6. A TOWEL

In 2014, a red-tailed boa constrictor known as “Killer” made headlines after his owner, an unnamed reptile hobbyist in the Tampa Bay area, fed him a live rat. As it was being engulfed, the rodent grabbed hold of a towel that was lining the bottom of the cage. Killer then accidentally swallowed the towel and his intended supper in one big gulp. “The towel came with the rat,” said Julia Shakeri, the veterinarian whose surgical team went on to save the boa.

7. PART OF A CAR

Last year, a female brown tree snake crashed an outdoor barbecue party in Black River, Queensland. An animal control professional was called over to relocate the mildly venomous reptile. At some point, it was discovered that the snake had a hard, golf-ball sized mass nestled inside of its stomach area. Doctors at the Townsville Veterinarian Clinic agreed to remove this mystery object. Bizarrely, an X-ray revealed that it was a round, rubber bush—which is normally found on the torsion bar of an automobile. “The snake was probably trying to eat a frog that was sitting on it,” theorized surgeon Linda Schiemer. Those of you with strong stomachs can watch a video of the clinic’s (successful) operation here.

8. A QUEEN-SIZED ELECTRIC BLANKET

Up in Ketchum, Idaho, a Burmese python named Houdini once became something of a minor celebrity. The 12-foot snake was kept by snake fancier Carl Beznoska, who endeared his python to kids throughout the community by bringing it to local schools for educational visits.

In 2006, Beznoska noticed that Houdini looked a bit thicker than usual. Moreover, the queen-sized electric blanket with which he’d been heating the snake’s enclosure had mysteriously vanished. Houdini was taken to a vet’s office where, lo and behold, an X-ray confirmed that the overzealous python had eaten his special blanket—cord, control box, and all. In all probability, the massive snake mistook the heated sheet for warm-blooded prey. Thankfully, his dietary misadventure wasn’t fatal; doctors were able to pull out the blanket in an operation that called for making an 18-inch incision across Houdini’s belly.

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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