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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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Animals
20 Black-and-White Facts About Penguins
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To celebrate World Penguin Day (which is today, April 25), here are a few fun facts about these adorable tuxedoed birds.

1. All 17 species of penguins are found exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere.

2. Emperor Penguins are the tallest species, standing nearly 4 feet tall. The smallest is the Little Blue Penguin, which is only about 16 inches.

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3. The fastest species is the Gentoo Penguin, which can reach swimming speeds up to 22 mph.

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4. A penguin's striking coloring is a matter of camouflage; from above, its black back blends into the murky depths of the ocean. From below, its white belly is hidden against the bright surface.

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5. Fossils place the earliest penguin relative at some 60 million years ago, meaning an ancestor of the birds we see today survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.

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6. Penguins ingest a lot of seawater while hunting for fish, but a special gland behind their eyes—the supraorbital gland—filters out the saltwater from their blood stream. Penguins excrete it through their beaks, or by sneezing.

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7. Unlike most birds—which lose and replace a few feathers at a time—penguins molt all at once, spending two or three weeks land-bound as they undergo what is called the catastrophic molt.

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8. All but two species of penguins breed in large colonies of up to a thousand birds.

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9. It varies by species, but many penguins will mate with the same member of the opposite sex season after season.

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10. Similarly, most species are also loyal to their exact nesting site, often returning to the same rookery in which they were born.

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11. Some species create nests for their eggs out of pebbles and loose feathers. Emperor Penguins are an exception: They incubate a single egg each breeding season on the top of their feet. Under a loose fold of skin is a featherless area with a concentration of blood vessels that keeps the egg warm.

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12. In some species, it is the male penguin which incubates the eggs while females leave to hunt for weeks at a time. Because of this, pudgy males—with enough fat storage to survive weeks without eating—are most desirable.

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13. Penguin parents—both male and female—care for their young for several months until the chicks are strong enough to hunt for food on their own.

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14. If a female Emperor Penguin's baby dies, she will often "kidnap" an unrelated chick.

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15. Despite their lack of visible ears, penguins have excellent hearing and rely on distinct calls to identify their mates when returning to the crowded breeding grounds.

16. The first published account of penguins comes from Antonio Pigafetta, who was aboard Ferdinand Magellan's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1520. They spotted the animals near what was probably Punta Tombo in Argentina. (He called them "strange geese.")

17. An earlier, anonymous diary entry from Vasco da Gama's 1497 voyage around the Cape of Good Hope makes mention of flightless birds as large as ducks.

18. Because they aren't used to danger from animals on solid ground, wild penguins exhibit no particular fear of human tourists.

19. Unlike most sea mammals—which rely on blubber to stay warm—penguins survive because their feathers trap a layer of warm air next to the skin that serves as insulation, especially when they start generating muscular heat by swimming around.

20. In the 16th century, the word penguin actually referred to great auks (scientific name: Pinguinus impennis), a now-extinct species that inhabited the seas around eastern Canada. When explorers traveled to the Southern Hemisphere, they saw black and white birds that resembled auks, and called them penguins.

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6 Myths About Animals, Debunked
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It’s easy to think we understand animals: They’re present in every part of our culture, from the movies we watch to the clichés we use. But the way a species functions in the wild is often worlds apart from a stereotype or cartoon. This gulf between misconceptions and reality is the theme of Lucy Cooke’s new book, The Truth About Animals.

"We have a habit of viewing the animal kingdom through the prism of our own existence, and that trips us up and obscures the truth,” Cooke, a zoologist and founder of the Sloth Appreciation Society, tells Mental Floss. “I think it's time we rebrand the animal kingdom according to facts and not sentimentality.”

As Cooke examines in her book, the real world is one in which pandas are virile lovers and sloths are master survivalists. These are just a few of the myths that were debunked in The Truth About Animals.

1. PANDAS HAVE LOW SEX DRIVES.

Pandas have long been blamed for their own precarious position in the animal kingdom. The species is in danger, some people claim, because pandas are reluctant to or just plain bad at copulating. If only they would get off their furry behinds and get it on, there would be more of them.

In The Truth About Animals, Cooke debunks this modern myth. Pandas have been living in the wild for 18 million years—long before humans swooped in to act as their savior—and that wouldn’t be the case without healthy sex habits. It’s true that pandas are difficult to breed in captivity, and the several failed attempts of zoos to produce a baby panda throughout the 20th century is likely what led to this stereotype. But the bears are much more responsive to members of the opposite sex in the wild. The female chooses who she mates with, moaning from high in a bamboo tree while several males on the ground compete for her attention. Once the bears have paired off, they can have sex over 40 times in one afternoon.

2. SLOTHS ARE LAZY.

Cooke was inspired to write her book by sloths, which she describes to Mental Floss as “highly successful, highly evolved” creatures. Not everyone agrees: More than perhaps any other animal, sloths have become synonymous with laziness and sluggishness, and today they’re held up as an example of evolutionary failure.

The reality is that sloths are much more impressive than their appearance suggests. They’ve been around since 64 million years ago—earlier than wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers—and they have their slow and steady nature to thank for their success. Sloths have a remarkably slow digestive system and a low-calorie diet, so they expend as little energy as possible, not out of laziness, but out of survival instinct. A sloth is awake for more than half the day, and when necessary it can scramble up a tree at speeds approaching 1 mph. It spends most of its day in a still, seemingly trancelike state, but it isn’t wasting its potential: It’s conserving energy so it can maintain its dominant spot in the evolutionary tree.

3. PENGUINS ARE LOYAL LOVERS.

Emperor penguins, the most famous of the bird group, are known for splitting parenting duties between mated pairs, with the father incubating the egg while the mother gathers food for her family. This has led some to praise penguins as the reflection of ideal, moral family dynamics in the animal kingdom, but these people should probably find a different analog. Though the parents of any given chick may raise their offspring together, penguins aren’t monogamous: 85 percent of emperor penguins find a new partner from one breeding season to the next. Penguins are also some of the only animals known to exchange goods for sex. Adélie penguins need rocks to build up their nests during warmer months when meltwater threatens their eggs. With no parenting duties to distract them, bachelor penguins end up collecting more stones than they need, so some females will sometimes trade a one-off sex session for one of their pebbles.

4. VULTURES STALK DYING PREY.

Watch enough survival movies and you’re bound to see a shot of a hungry vulture trailing behind the starving protagonist, waiting for them to lie down and die. The myth that vultures stalk their prey while it’s still alive and have the power to predict death is a persistent one, but that doesn’t make it accurate. The scavengers have no interest in living animals and will only seek out meat from dead and decaying corpses. Rather than reaper-like premonitions of mortality, turkey vultures and greater and lesser yellow-headed vultures use their noses to locate their meals. They join kiwis and kakapos on the small list of birds with highly-developed olfactory glands. Without a strong sense of smell, other New World vultures and all Old World vultures primarily rely on sight to find food. Some New World vultures like black vultures have adopted a different strategy: They'll follow turkey vultures to their prey, taking advantage of their sensitive noses.

5. ALL BATS ARE RABID BLOOD-SUCKERS.

Bats may be the animals most closely associated with the horror genre. They crave blood, so the myth goes, and though a bat latched onto your neck won’t be able to suck you dry, it will likely infect you with a nasty case of rabies.

According to Cooke, there are many problems with the statement above. Bats are poor stand-ins for their fictional vampire counterparts; only three species of bats drink blood—the common vampire bat, the hairy-legged vampire bat, and the white-winged vampire bat—while most prefer fruit or insects. After climbing onto its prey, the vampire bat locates where the blood is flowing with the heat sensor on its nose, and then, using its sharp front teeth like shears, it cuts away any hair that might be blocking the skin. Rather than biting down and sucking like Dracula, the bat creates a small incision and laps up blood from the open wound. They can recognize an individual animal's breathing patterns and return to feed on it the following night, taking advantage of the reliable blood source.

Bats are rarely rabid, with just .05 percent of them carrying the disease—less than dogs or raccoons. The image of a bat getting tangled in your hair also has no basis in reality: Their sophisticated echolocation system signals them to turn long before they have a chance to collide with your head.

6. FEMALE HYENAS HAVE PENISES.

Hyena genitalia has been baffling scientists for centuries. Member of both sexes appear to have a penis, while in females there’s no external vagina to be found. Scientists originally thought that hyenas must be hermaphrodites, but the true explanation is even more unusual. Though it’s often referred to as a pseudo-penis, female hyena genitalia doesn’t produce sperm, technically making it a nearly 8-inch-long clitoris. This appendage is also saddled with all the same duties as a conventional female organ, including giving birth to hyena pups.

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