Photo of mummified snake 'biting itself' astounds Aussies

Some said the reptile now makes an 'amazing' piece of art.

A nature enthusiast who stumbled upon an entire "dried snake" is in awe of the fascinating discovery which she says could be used as "an amazing natural sculpture".

An incredible photo posted on social media week this week shows the deceased reptile tangled around itself while sinking its teeth into its own body before dying, and eventually drying out to become completely stiff.

The sight is one many Aussies weren't familiar with, as some expressed their amazement in the Facebook post's comments. The woman who shared the photo said she spotted the reptile in Nakara, a suburb in Darwin in the Northern Territory.

"Have a look at this! It’s a dried snake, definitely not just a shed skin. It was found on the ground in a yard in Nakara," she posted on Wednesday. "Can anyone say what type of snake it is? It appears to be biting itself. Could it have killed itself this way? An amazing natural sculpture!" she added.

Dried dead common tree snake.
The snake was likely in pain and reacted by biting itself before eventually dying, a reptile vet explained. Source: Facebook

'Very common' snake behaviour, says reptile vet

As it turns out, it's a pretty common sight and snakes will often bite themselves when they're in pain, reptile veterinarian Dr Jonathon Howard said.

"If a bird like a kookaburra got to it and belted it against a branch and broken its back, it would be thrashing around biting at the pain," he explained to Yahoo News Australia, and added, it's "very common" to see in snakes that have been run over, attacked by dogs or cats.

Because they don't have arms or legs like humans or other mammals, the snake reacts by biting where the pain is, and in this instance, its teeth "became stuck in its own skin then died of its subsequent injuries".

It's also normal for it to stiffen up after dying — a process known as rigor mortis, the postmortem change resulting in the stiffening of the body muscles due to chemical changes in their myofibrils. Humans and other mammals go into rigor mortis too. "The animal has then dried out in the heat after death," Howard explained.

Common tree snake
The snake was likely a non-venomous common tree snake. Source: Getty

The woman who found the snake also wondered about the species. Howard said it looks like a common tree snake (Dendrelaphis punctulatus) which is a non-venomous snake found from the northern tropics down to the east coast of Australia.

Aussies react to mummy snake

Aussies on Facebook said the discovery was "fascinating" with some admitting they'd seen something similar but couldn't explain what it was.

"It's amazing! I can see some artist replicating it in metal, one said describing it as "art". "Crazy. Mummified ouroboros," said another referring to the ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new weekly newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.

Banner reads 'What on Earth' with 'Subscribe to our new weekly newsletter' and a collage of images of australian natural wildlife.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter.