Photograph courtesy of South Florida NRC
Photograph courtesy of South Florida NRC

Photo in the News: Python Bursts After Eating Gator (Update)

In Everglades National Park. a python was found dead with it's midsection split open, revealing a mostly intact dead gator—did this python take on more than it could handle?

Unfortunately for a 13-foot (4-meter) Burmese python in Florida's Everglades National Park, eating the enemy seems to have caused the voracious reptile to bust a gut—literally.

Wildlife researchers with the South Florida Natural Resources Center found the dead, headless python in October 2005 after it apparently tried to digest a 6-foot-long (2-meter-long) American alligator. The mostly intact dead gator was found sticking out of a hole in the midsection of the python, and wads of gator skin were found in the snake's gastrointestinal tract.

The gruesome discovery suggests that the python's feisty last meal might have been simply too much for it to handle.

An Alternative Theory

An animated recreation of the python-alligator battle suggests that the python might have survived its massive meal but that a second gator came to the rescue and bit off the snake's head. The force of the tussle, the new theory says, is what caused the python to burst.

But even scientists associated with the show aren't so sure the new theory holds water.

Wayne King, reptile curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, cites the relatively clean decapitation of the snake. "Alligators, they don't bite off a piece," he told McClatchey Newspapers. "They grab hold, then they roll and spin. If one grabs you by the arm, normally they wrench the arm off, or if they grab you by the buttocks, they'll rip away a chunk of meat."

Clashes between alligators and pythons have been on the rise in the Everglades for the past 20 years. Unwanted pet snakes dumped in the swamp have thrived, and the Asian reptile is now a major competitor in the alligator's native ecosystem. (See "Huge, Freed Pet Pythons Invade Florida Everglades.")

"Clearly if [pythons] can kill an alligator, they can kill other species," Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor, told the Associated Press. "There had been some hope that alligators can control Burmese pythons. … This [event] indicates to me it's going to be an even draw."