Snake gives birth in reptile catcher’s car
A Melbourne snake catcher caught more than he bargained for yesterday, when a freshly captured tiger snake gave birth to twelve baby snakes in his car.
Known as 'Stewy the Snake Catcher', Stewart Gatt was out on a routine job to catch and relocate a Tiger snake from an Ardeer home, when one snake quickly turned into 13.
"The Tiger snake took all of 10 seconds to catch, so I put the snake in the bag and headed out to Sunshine for another job, which took a while," Mr Gatt, who catches more than 500 snakes per year, said.
"When I went out to relocate the two snakes, I noticed that one of them had made a mess of my snake bag.
"She'd given birth in the bag, and there were 12 extra snakes in there!"
There may have been 13 snakes in the bag, but there were 14 snake heads, as one of the baby snakes had two heads.
"I could see that one of them had two heads, and he was weak and it didn't look like it was viable he would survive," he said.
"The other babies were quite big for baby snakes, maybe because the mother only had 12, and there can be up to 20 or 30 in any one litter.
"The babies were all at least 10cm long, while the mother was about two-and-a-half feet long."
Mr Gatt transferred the "little ones" into a plastic tub so they had room to move, and took the whole family to a Point Cook vet to be checked over.
"Tiger snakes aren't very maternal,' Direct Vet Service's Dr Karen Davies said.
"This 'bundle of shoelaces' were absolute newborns, so they were completely checked over when Stewy brought them in.
"They were all fit and well, except the one with two heads was considerably weaker than the others.
"He was shorter in length and overall smaller in size.
"We sadly had to euthanise him because he was unwell and wouldn't be able to survive in the wild - that legislation is very clear."
"All the others were mixed length and quite active, like most siblings."
As for the mother, she was deemed fit and well, and released into the wild alongside her 11 living offspring.
Dr Davies said that while two-headed snakes weren't common, this was the second or third she'd seen in her 29-year career.
"It's more common in reptiles than in mammals," she said.
"It happens when an embryo splits to develop into a foetus, but the split is incomplete, so you get two embryos sort of stuck and growing together.
"So in this case, the head started to split but the rest of the body didn't cleave."
Tiger snakes are ovoviviparous, busting a common myth about reptiles.
"Most people assume reptiles all lay eggs, but that's not always true," Dr Davies said.
"Tiger snakes are liveborn, so this bundle was born straight into the bag."
Dr Davies said that while she regularly treats snakes found by Gatt, this particularly case will be well-remembered.
"Something out of the ordinary is always exciting," she said.
"We've had some good stories of recovery, and this one is up there."
Mr Gatt, who has been in the snake catching game for a decade, said he had no idea the female tiger snake was pregnant when he caught her in the Ardeer backyard.
"Usually you can tell," he said.
"She was only a little snake, but this was a very quick catch."
"This isn't even the weirdest job I've been called out to - I once was called out to a snake giving birth.
"I had to catch those baby snakes off the floor, at least these were all in a bag."
Originally published as Snake gives birth in reptile catcher's car