Rangers dubbed the ᴜɴᴜsᴜᴀʟ serpent “Monty Python” after finding it on a highway in late March.
X-rays showed all three of its eyes were functioning and the extra socket likely developed naturally while the snake was an ᴇᴍʙʀʏᴏ, the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission said in a Facebook post, noting that such ᴅᴇfᴏʀᴍities were common among reptiles.
Wildlife officers told the Northern Territory News the 40 centimetre (18-inch) carpet python was about three months old and ᴅɪᴇᴅ after about a month in captivity.
“It’s remarkable it was able to survive so long in the wild with its ᴅᴇfᴏʀᴍity and he was struggling to feed before he ᴅɪᴇᴅ last week,” ranger Ray Chatto told the newspaper on Friday.
But the late Monty Python found a new life on the internet after the Wildlife Commission posted photos of it on their Facebook page this week.
“I tried to come up with a few jokes, but they just got cornea and cornea,” wrote one user.
Another thought the joke was elsewhere: “Not even disturbed by the three eyed snake… just incredibly amused that there’s a place called Humpty Doo.”
The snake, a carpet python (Morelia spilota), had a third eye on its forehead. This condition is extremely rare, said David Penning, an assistant professor of biology at Missouri Southern State University, who was not involved with the snake’s case.
“Until today, I had not ever seen a snake with three eyes,” Penning told Live Science in an email. “I have seen snakes with two heads [and] some odd facial ᴅᴇfᴏʀᴍities but nothing quite like this.”
The nonᴠᴇɴᴏᴍᴏᴜs carpet python, which is native to Australia and New Guinea, can grow up to 9 feet (3 meters) long, but this snake was small — just about 16 inches (40 centimeters) long, indicating that it was a juvenile, the NTPWC said in a Facebook post yesterday (May 1).
Intrigued, the rangers had the snake X-rayed. The resulting images showed that the snake didn’t have two separate heads forged together, as the rangers had suspected. “Rather, it appeared to be one sᴋᴜʟʟ with an additional eye socket and three functioning eyes,” the NTPWC wrote in the post.
This ᴅᴇfᴏʀᴍity likely happened early on during the snake’s ᴇᴍʙʀʏᴏnic development, they said, adding that it was likely a “natural occurrence, as ᴍᴀʟfᴏʀᴍᴇᴅ reptiles are relatively common” and not due to environmental factors, such as ᴘᴏʟʟᴜᴛion.
It’s impressive this snake even saw the light of day. Sometimes, mother snakes eat “ʙᴀᴅ” eggs called “slugs” after laying them, Penning said. Moreover, snakes born with ᴅᴇfᴏʀᴍities, such as spinal problems, typically ᴅɪᴇ after a few days, he said.
Monty wasn’t the only known animal with extra eyes. Gᴇɴᴇᴛɪᴄally modified scarab beetles hatched in the lab sometimes grow a third eye, and fossil evidence indicates that a species of ancient monitor lizard that lived about 49 million years ago had four “eyes” — two normal eyes and two eye-like photosensory structures on top of its head.