A 3-year-old Australian boy was lucky to escape uninjured after a collection of eggs he found in his yard hatched into a slithering tangle of deadly snakes.
Reptile specialist Trish Prendergast said Friday that young wildlife enthusiast Kyle Cummings could have been killed if he had handled the eastern brown snakes - the world's most venomous species on land after Australia's inland taipan.
Kyle found a clutch of nine eggs a few weeks ago in the grass on his family's 1.2-hectare (3-acre) property on the outskirts of the city of Townsville in Queensland state, Prendergast said. He had no idea what kind of eggs they were.
He put the eggs into a plastic takeout food container and stashed them in his bedroom closet, where his mother, Donna Sim, found them Monday. Seven had hatched, but the snakes remained trapped under the container's lid. The remaining two eggs were probably infertile and were rotten, Prendergast said.
"I was pretty shocked, particularly because I don't like snakes," Sim told the Townsville Bulletin newspaper.
Prendergast, who is the Townsville-based reptile coordinator of the volunteer group North Queensland Wildlife Care, was handed the container on Tuesday and released the snakes into the wild that night.
She was relieved that no one had handled the snakes.
"Their fangs are only a few millimeters long at that age, so they probably couldn't break the skin, but they're just as venomous as full-grown snakes," Prendergast said.
"If venom had got on Kyle's skin where there was a cut or if he put it in his mouth, it could have been fatal," she added.
Eastern brown snakes - which can grow to more than 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) long - usually stay with their eggs but sometimes leave for short periods to feed.
"He's very lucky he didn't encounter the mother while he was taking her eggs. That also could have been fatal," Prendergast said.
The snakes were 12 to 15 centimeters (5 to 6 inches) long and had probably hatched around five days before they were released, she said, adding that they were thirsty but otherwise healthy.
Australia averages around three fatal snake bites a year, and eastern browns are responsible for the majority of them.
Sim did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.