Fellow passenger

Anyone who has tried to ride on the wing of an aeroplane — & I have entirely avoided the experience — will empathize with the scrub python who attempted this feat on a flight from Cairns, Queensland, to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea. An account is provided by the Sydney Morning Herald, under the inevitable headline, “Qantas python’s flying circus.”

The scrub python, or by his more elegant Latin name, Morelia amethistina, is a handsome beast, the pearly sheen of whose scales would provide a temptation to vanity in any creature. Specimens grow up to twenty feet, longer in rare cases, & they are quite svelte compared with other pythons. (People who find shed skins think many snakes must have been much bigger, for the scale folds stretch in the course of moulting, producing a turned out “sock” often doubled in length.)

These “amethyst pythons” (as I prefer to think of them) are found both sides of the Torres Strait, through eastern Indonesia, & to the outermost islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. There are no subspecies, so if gentle reader will not suspect me of Darwinism, I’ll venture they often cadge a lift. They are not venomous, constricting their prey in the python way; often dropping upon them, but sometimes just waiting quietly & invisibly by a riverbank for when dinner comes to drink. They eat rats & rodents of all sorts, & are partial to fruitbats when they can catch them, & other small animals including baby wallabies, which is probably bad for their P.R.

The one in question, whose sex was not specified, selected what seemed a plausible perch up the landing gear to the flap assembly while the plane was on the ground. But he or she was soon airborne, in a very high wind at a very low temperature against a nastily vibrating smooth metal surface. Some people, including several ladies of my acquaintance, dislike snakes generally, but as one might guess all the passengers watching the drama from inside the cabin were rooting for the snake, as he clung on. And it was a good fight, for he held through the shakedown of landing, & was seen still moving when the plane came to port. But he’s an ex-snake now.

They are not philosophical animals, the snakes, & this one didn’t know when he was beaten. But he did know that he wanted to live, & through all the technology of flight, found that place in the human heart where we could understand him.