A three-year-old Australian boy was lucky to escape uninjured after a collection of eggs he found in his garden hatched into a slithering tangle of deadly snakes.
Reptile carer Trish Prendergast said 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 three-acre property on the outskirts of the city of Townsville in Queensland state, Ms 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 cupboard, where his horrified mother, Donna Sim, found them. Seven had hatched, but the snakes remained trapped under the container's lid. The remaining two eggs were probably infertile and were rotten, Ms Prendergast said.
"I was pretty shocked, particularly because I don't like snakes," Ms Sim told the Townsville Bulletin newspaper.
Ms Prendergast, the Townsville-based reptile co-ordinator of volunteer group North Queensland Wildlife Care, was handed the container and released the snakes into the wild.
"Their fangs are only a few millimetres long at that age, so they probably couldn't break the skin, but they're just as venomous as full-grown snakes," she said. "If venom had got on Kyle's skin where there was a cut of if he put it in his mouth, it could have been fatal."
Eastern brown snakes - which can grow to more than six and a half 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," Ms Prendergast said.
The snakes were 5-6ins 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 60 % of the country's fatalities.