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Screaming Passengers Spot Rogue Snake on United Airlines Flight in Newark

Newsweek 10/18/2022 Robyn White
A stock photo shows a common garter snake. A garter snake was found slithering around a plane in Newark. © Wildnerdpix/Getty A stock photo shows a common garter snake. A garter snake was found slithering around a plane in Newark.

Screaming passengers spotted a snake on board a United Airlines plane that had just landed in Newark.

The garter snake was found slithering around the plane at Newark International Airport on October 17, a Port Authority spokesperson told News 12 New Jersey.

The flight landed at about 1.15 p.m. ET, the news outlet reported. The plane had been taxiing when passengers in the business class section of the plane began screaming, a passenger told News 12 New Jersey.

People began pulling their feet up to avoid the reptile as it made its way around the aisle and the seats. Police officers arrived at the scene to remove the animal and it remains unclear how it came to be onboard.

Herpetologist Graham Alexander told Newsweek that American garter snakes are harmless and that passengers got "worked up over nothing." There are some species that are venomous, however, and most people obviously wouldn't know how to spot them.

"Common names can be confusing: there are snakes in Africa that are also called garter snakes and they are only distantly related to American garter snakes. In fact the African garter snakes are in a different family – they are elapids which is the 'cobra/mamba' family. And they are venomous but don't really bite," Alexander said.

Damian Michael, a herpetologist and senior research fellow in ecology at Charles Sturt University, told Newsweek: "There are approximately 35 different species of snakes that are commonly called garter snakes."

"[There are] many subspecies and considerable uncertainty regarding taxonomic relationships, all are considered harmless, but some do poses a neurotoxic venom that may cause mild symptoms, but generally they all lack the means of envenoming humans," Michael said.

The snakes are usually found between Central America and Canada, Michael said.

"[They] feed on a variety of prey depending on their habitat, some are aquatic and others are more terrestrial," Michael said. "It's rare for snakes to be found on planes but it does obviously happen. A small python made the trip from Australia to Scotland a few years ago!"

It's not the first time such an incident has occurred onboard an aircraft.

Passengers on board a flight to Malaysia in February this year had a similar experience when someone spotted a snake slithering in the plane's overhead lights.

The snake's shadow was captured in a TikTik video at the time, according to a USA Today report.

It was unclear what type of snake it was.

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