Giant Burmese python

Sometimes, even in our dog-eat-dog world, particularly epic meals catch our attention. So it was with the nearly 16-foot (5-meter) female Burmese python that recently swallowed a 76-pound (35-kilogram) female deer near Florida‘s Everglades National Park.

The female snake weighed in at 215 pounds. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District.

Burmese pythons are infrequent eaters, so they’re gluttons on the rare occasions when they do eat. In fact, I just wrote a story last week about how their hearts and other organs expand to help digest their giant dinners. (The short answer—fatty acids in their blood.) The reptiles kill by constricting—they’ll ambush a likely meal, grab hold with backward-curving teeth, and wrap around the victim, suffocating it to death. The snakes then open their hinged jaws wide to swallow their prey whole.

The arrival of the 20-foot (6-meter) reptiles into Florida swamps a few decades ago “was the biggest, [most] devastating problem that Florida ever could have imagined, ” Kenneth Krysko, senior herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, told me for a story I wrote on Florida’s invasive pythons in 2009.

Since the Southeast Asian snake has taken up residence in the state, “dozens of species of native wildlife, from white-tailed deer to 6-foot [183-centimeter] alligators to birds, have been found in the digestive tracts of Burmese pythons, ” wildlife biologist Robert Reed, who studies invasive reptiles for the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado, told me for the same story.

Indeed, in 2005, a 13-foot (4-meter) Burmese python literally busted its gut eating a 6-foot-long (2-meter-long) American alligator. Writes my colleague Victoria Jaggard:

“Wildlife researchers with the South Florida Natural Resources Center found the dead, headless python in October 2005 after it apparently tried to digest a six-foot-long (two-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.”

The reptile had swallowed an entire pregnant sheep and was too full to slither away and digest its supersize meal. But the stress of being captured likely triggered the python to purge—it eventually regurgitated the dead ewe, we reported.

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