Even if you’re not afraid of snakes, you probably wouldn’t like finding one in your toilet. Yet that’s exactly what recently happened in Khon Kaen, Thailand. The video, which was released last week, shows rescuers pulling a snake out of the toilet into which it had slithered.
Brad Shaffer, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in an email that he’s “pretty sure it is an oriental rat snake,” which is “a large, common, completely harmless snake that is wide-ranging across a lot of southern Asia.”
Although rare, the phenomenon of snakes wriggling into toilets is well documented. Snakes have popped up in toilets around the world, including here in Australia, South Africa, and the United States. According to Shaffer, they probably get in by climbing into the toilet bowl, rather than crawling through the piping.
This isn’t even the first time a toilet snake in Thailand made international news in 2016. In May, a python crawled into a man’s squat toilet bowl in Chachoengsao Province and bit his penis. Local rescue officer Danupol Tapo told CNN at the time that he had seen snakes in toilets “many times,” and though he’d seen cases where snakes had attacked legs and butts, he’d never before encountered one that had bitten someone’s genitals. (Unfortunately, an Israeli man suffered the same type of injury in 2013.)
Once it’s in there, removing a snake from a toilet can be unpleasant. Geoff Jacobs, who runs a snake-catching business in Brisbane, told the BBC that he gets four or five calls a year to remove green tree snakes, common tree snakes, carpet pythons, or other types of serpents from toilets—and that the process is very gross.
“It's the worst job,” he said. “You get a toilet bowl that's been there 30 or 40 years—we see the bit that gets cleaned but the rest of it doesn't. When you go to pull the thing out of there, it's not fun.” (Go "Around The World In 12 Toilet Pictures".)
So why do snakes even get into people’s toilets in the first place?
According to Lin Schwarzkopf, a professor at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, they’re probably just looking for a little sustenance, and maybe some peace and quiet.
“Snakes drink water, like other vertebrates, and need water to survive. They are probably looking for water,” she wrote in an email. “Also, snakes like to avoid noise, lights, and disturbance, and rooms with toilets in them tend to be small and dark with good hiding places.”
And, since rats and frogs “also need water and like quiet, dark locations,” Schwarzkopf noted, “snakes may go into toilets looking for prey.”
Shaffer, however, thinks that most snakes found in toilets probably crawled in there because they were scared. If a snake accidentally enters a person’s house, it might try to find a dark place, like a toilet, to hide.
“I’m virtually positive that [the snake in the Thailand video] was just trying to hide,” he says. “It was probably scared to death being in someone’s house.”
If you see a snake in your toilet, you should stay calm, close the toilet lid and the bathroom door, and call whatever organisation in your area handles animal removal and release.
“It’s easy to panic with snakes,” Shaffer says. “But I think it’s also important to realise that snake populations around the world are really tanking, they’re really in trouble … Hopefully, people don’t use these very rare instances of snakes getting in houses or getting in the toilet as a reason to be more fearful or to kill snakes.”