Woman Woke Up to Find 12-Foot Snake Trying to Eat Her

A snake that was being tracked by researchers tried to eat an Australian woman as she slept in her bed at night. The snake then returned to her home the following year to attack her dog, leaving it unconscious, a report into the attack said.

The snake, an Australian scrub python (Simalia amethistina) living in the woodland of Lockerbie Scrub in Cape York Peninsula, Australia, had been fitted with a radio transmitter on February 4, 2014, and was being tracked by a team led by Macquarie University's Daniel Natusch.

By March 9 it had moved around 300 feet to the immediate vicinity of the house of Lea-Ann Mears and her young family, including a pair of children aged one and three years old.

Scrub pythons are common in the area, non-venomous and are not considered a threat to people, though they have been known to attack pets and small children. At 3.6m (12 feet) long and weighing 4.6kg (10 pounds), this one was deemed capable of posing a threat to Mears' kids.

However, because it was lying beneath a shipping container and could not be extracted, Natusch advised Mears to protect her children by locking the windows and doors of their room.

High temperatures prompted Mears to leave her own door open, and she awoke at 2.28 a.m. local time with her right leg in the grip of the snake, which then coiled around her body in what Natusch and his colleagues describe as a "predatory attack."

Mears managed to break free and trap the snake in the kitchen, and escaped without serious injury. The snake was released 650 feet away the following day.

On January 30 the following year, it returned to the house and attacked Mears' dog, leaving it unconscious. The dog survived but required resuscitation, and the snake was relocated even further away.

Natusch described the incident as a "freak mistake."

"I do not believe it is reasonable to consider scrub pythons any more of a threat to humans as they already were (far less of a threat than your pet dog, or lightning strike, etc)," Natusch told Newsweek via email.

"This was a freak mistake by a snake that was probably very hungry. The threat has always been there for children, just like the threat of a pet dog snapping at a baby/toddler can cause irreparable physical damage where it only causes a minor cut for an adult person."

A paper documenting the attack co-authored by Natusch, Mears and colleagues Jessica Lyons and Richard Shine has been published in the journal Austral Ecology. In it, they note that Mears weighed 64kg, which is 13 times more than the weight of the snake that attacked her. Her dog weighed 25kg, more than five times more than the snake.

"If the snake involved was a more heavy-bodied species, the attack on Lea-Ann would be surprising (snakes rarely eat people) but not inexplicable," the paper explains.

However, Mears and her dog were both several orders of magnitude larger than their attacker, which would not have come remotely close to successfully ingesting them.

"We consider several possible explanations. First, it may be a case of mistaken identity. In some cases, the snake may only see part of the whole prey item," the study said. "Once the snake strikes the prey, its natural feeding response ensues even if the prey item is too large to consume. The immobility of a sleeping person removes visual cues as to whether or not the object in question (e.g. a hand or a leg) is part of a larger body versus being a smaller (edible-size) separate object."

The paper also raises the possibility that the snake could have mistaken the scent of Mears' sweat for that of a more suitable prey, or attacked her on the off-chance that Mears could have been accompanied by smaller offspring.

scrub python snake sydney zoo australia
Sydney Zoo's largest snake, a 17-foot scrub python, is weighed by keepers on July 14, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. The scrub python that attacked Lee-Ann Mears was 12 feet in length. (Photo by Don Arnold/WireImage) Don Arnold/WireImage via Getty Images

"Even after the snake realizes that it has seized a small part of a much larger animal, it may retain its grip because releasing the hold may allow the potential prey item to retaliate; and if the prey is killed, the snake may take the risk of attempting to ingest it," the paper continues.

"Finally, optimal foraging theory suggests that the benefit of a large meal may outweigh the risk of a snake misjudging the size of a prey item ... favoring strenuous attempts to ingest prey even if that ultimately proves to be physically impossible."