A 36-year-old woman was recently found dead with a large python wrapped around her neck. Laura Hurst, from Oxford, Indiana, was visiting a property housing a collection of 140 snakes when the incident took place. Twenty of the snakes were reportedly owned by Hurst.
The snake-filled house belongs to Benton County Sheriff Don Munsen, who lives in the house next door. Speaking to local news outlet the Layafette Journal & Courier, he described Hurst’s death as a “tragic accident”. While it is believed she died as a result of strangulation from the snake, an autopsy is taking place today to confirm the exact cause of her death. She was found unresponsive at 8.51pm on Wednesday. The snake was removed from her body, but she could not be revived.
The snake in question was a reticulated python, a large reptile naturally found in South and Southeast Asia. Hurst’s python measured 2.4 meters (8 feet) from nose to tail, but the species can reach lengths of up to 10 meters (32 feet), making it the world’s longest snake. Pythons are not venomous, so they can’t cause too much harm via biting. Instead, they suffocate their prey by squeezing it with their vast, muscular bodies.
It’s not quite clear why Hurst removed the snake from its enclosure. Indiana State Police Sergeant Kim Riley told CNN that she was checking on her pets. “For whatever reason, she apparently got the snake out and she was doing what people do with snakes."
No humans live in Munsen’s snake-filled abode as it has been converted specifically to house the animals, although there are no signs outside the building to warn people of its scaly occupants. Hurst was apparently a snake enthusiast and kept her own snakes at the property.
While deadly pet snakes are rare, this isn’t the first time someone has been killed by a beloved reptile. In 2011, a couple in Florida faced trial after their 3.6-meter-long (12-foot) Burmese python escaped and killed the woman’s 2-year-old daughter. In 2013, two young boys in Canada were suffocated by a large African rock python that escaped from a pet store.
Despite being relatively common pets, snakes and other reptiles aren’t exactly domesticated and likely do not bond with their owners. Hurst’s death serves as a reminder that keepers of large pythons should be careful when handling the animals.
“Unlike domesticated dogs and cats, reptiles have retained their primitive characteristics,” veterinarian Adam Denish told petMD. “Most of their life is about basic necessities like drinking, eating, breeding, and surviving.”
Last year, a missing woman in Indonesia was found in the swollen belly of a wild reticulated python. Both pet-owners and those who live where the snakes are naturally found need to be wary of these powerful creatures and aware of the risks they pose.