Sometimes nature's creatures are wondrous, graceful and inspiring. Other times, an animal gets its face stuck inside another animal's face, and it's just awkward for everyone involved.

Earlier this month, snake catcher Anand Chitti was called in to remove a scaly visitor that had ended up on a private property in the city of Belagavi in south India. When Chitti got there, he found an Indian cobra nestled in a pile of bricks.

And the reptile wasn't alone: a smaller snake was sticking out of its left nostril!

"I have caught 14,000 snakes till now and have never seen anything strange like that," Chitti said.

The small critter was a blind worm snake, a native of southeast Asia that has also established itself as an introduced species all over the world (the snakes also have a habit of living in owl nests). Growing only around 12 centimetres (5 inches) long, the reptiles are small enough to go unnoticed by bigger species like the two-metre (six-foot) Indian cobra … or, apparently, to fit inside their nostrils!

Exactly what motivated the little serpent to take a nose-dive isn't clear (it seems unlikely that snorting worm snakes is a new pastime among adventurous cobras), but it is possible the small snake got confused. They aren't called blind snakes for nothing: the animas have poor eyesight and spend most of their lives burrowing through soil in search of bugs.

Kevin Messenger, professor of Zoology at Nanjing Forestry University, has spent over 20 years searching for snakes around the world, and he's never seen or heard of anything like this. "Maybe [the worm snake] thought it was just a standard hole, and maybe the cobra was sleeping?" he suggests (yes, snakes do sleep, kind of). How else can we explain a little snake successfully spelunking inside a cobra's nasal cavity?

Once the cobra was extricated from its brick lair, Chitti says it struggled mightily to shake off the unwanted face invader (speaking of face invaders...), and Chitti was eventually able to separate the duo. The cobra seemed unhurt, but the blind snake – which had managed to get a full half of its body into the bigger snake's nostril – was dead.

Snakes are notorious contortionists, and not at all known for getting themselves stuck in tight spaces. Messenger wonders if the worm snake's irritating presence caused the cobra's nostril to swell up, trapping the little creature within. The small snake might have suffocated, although Messenger also suggested that it may have been fatally injured while the cobra was "freaking out" (wouldn't you?).

As humorous as it may seem from the outside, watching a mighty reptilian predator flail around with a wormy booger dangling from its nose, Chitti pointed out that the situation could eventually have led to serious problems for the cobra. "The dead snake would have begun to decompose soon, attracting ants and [leading] to life-threatening infections in the cobra," he said.

Correction, Tuesday, September 26: This article has been edited to correct a centimetres-to-inches conversion error.



Top header image: Jagadeesh SJ/Flickr