Exclusive: The Story Behind The Epic Photo Of A Snake-Swallowing Frog

Though widely shared, the story behind the photo and its photographer had been a mystery.

Before a big storm strikes in North Queensland, Australia, Julie-Anne O'Neill says the air outside begins to teem with life.

"Everything goes ballistic. It's like a feeding and mating frenzy," she says.

In 2011, O'Neill was taking a late evening walk on one such night. She was carrying a large flashlight called a dolphin torch with which she hoped to observe how the local wildlife reacted to the coming storm.

It was on this walk that she took the photo that she would later call the crown jewel of her collection of nature images. She heard her subject before she saw it: a loud screeching that seemed familiar and yet foreign at the same time.

On the ground in front of her was the largest Australian green tree frog she had ever seen.

"It opened its mouth, and I thought 'Oh my gosh; what the heck!'" she remembers.

In the frog's mouth, a small brown snake was sliding backwards down the amphibian's gullet. The snake was still franticly trying to slither back out.


O'Neill was used to seeing these green tree frogs on the property where she lived. They're commonly found throughout Australia, but it was the first time she had seen one attempt to eat anything other than an insect. 

Initially, she was stunned by the sight, but then she remembered the new digital camera she had bought for such a moment. O'Neill claims she wasn't trying to be a photographer for photography's sake. Instead, she wanted to document some of the stranger things she had been seeing in the wild.

"I would say something to someone and they would go 'Oh that's bullshit Jules,' so I thought I'd get a camera and take photos."

Once back outside with her camera in tow, she found the tree frog had climbed up a wicker basket and was perched on the edge.

"I was still getting used to the Canon. My fingertips had gone numb from holding the shutter down," she remembers. Holding her large flashlight over her head, it required multiple attempts to get a clear view of the snake still stuck inside the frog's mouth. "When I finally cracked off the shot it felt like victory."


At the time, O'Neill was convinced the frog was going to die. Puncture wounds dotted the frog's tongue and, with the snake still viciously wriggling, she assumed the amphibian's unusual meal would be its last.

But in the morning, the frog was still there. Green tree frogs were a common sight for O'Neill; she'd even seen one crawl out of her toilet after it presumably swam up her pipes, but she recognised this one by its massive size. Picking it up, she said it filled both her palms.

When she posted the photo onto Google+ in 2011, O'Neill thought it might be popular, but she didn't expect the massive following it eventually accumulated on various social websites, Reddit chief among them.

When National Geographic reported on this photo earlier in October, O'Neill was stunned to learn just how popular her photo had become. (Read the original story, and learn more about green tree frogs.)

While she says the attention has been overwhelming, she's happy people are enjoying the photo as much as she has and that she's finally getting her credit.

Lead Image: The frog was perched on a wicker basket when O'Neill finally got the shot. PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIE-ANNE O'NEILL

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