Culture Dish

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In a fairly hilarious slip, yesterday a USA Today said researchers had found a 2500 foot snake fossil in Colombia.  Uh, make that a 2500 pound snake (it was about 40 feet long). But still:  BIG SNAKE!!  And it was 65 million years old (OLD SNAKE!!).  The Independent’s headline called it, “The Snake That Was So Big it Ate Crocodiles.”  But that’s actually not news: Plenty of snakes eat things like crocodiles. And that sometimes gets very ugly … 


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Here, from the Culture Dish archives, is the disturbing news about what can happen when a snake eats a big reptile:  
Rangers just reported that a 13-foot python ate a 6-foot alligator, and the result wasn’t pretty. The snake tried to swallow the gater whole — then the snake exploded.

Apparently, clashes between pythons and alligators are becoming increasingly common in the Everglades, where people have developed the annoying habit of dumping their pet pythons when they get too big to keep around the house (say, six feet long, or more). This has the makings of a tremendous problem: They’re encroaching on an $8 billion dollar Everglades restoration project by eating the native otters, the endangered birds … and now the alligators? Encounters like this simply aren’t natural — these snakes are a native species of Asia. They’re not supposed to be fighting Florida alligators. But this is the fourth battle of its kind.

Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor, is quoted by VZW News (which isn’t online or I’d link to it) saying that in this case, the alligator and python “were probably evenly matched in size … if the python got a good grip on the alligator before the alligator got a good grip on him, he could win.” But, he says, after being swallowed whole, the alligator apparently clawed at the pythons stomach from the inside, causing the snake to explode. The remains found by the rangers were a mess: The alligator’s hind end protruding from the snake’s midsection; the snake’s stomach still wrapped around the alligator’s head, shoulders and front legs.

This is an unfortunate blow for the folks in the Everglades restoration project — they’ve been hoping the alligators might control the rapidly growing Burmese python population. “This indicates to me it’s going to be an even draw,” Mazzotti said. “Sometimes alligators are going to win and sometimes the pythons will win.” Then, in one of the most striking understatements of the day, the BBC quotes Mazzotti saying “Clearly, if they can kill an alligator they can kill other species … it means nothing in the Everglades is safe from pythons …”
For some great photos of ginormous snakes, check out National Geographic’s Biggest Snakes photo series.  

Comments

  1. #1 Ed Yong
    February 5, 2009

    I have enjoyed the fact that many papers seem to have ascribed abilities that normal snakes can do to Titanoboa in an awestruck way.

    OMG! This snake was so large it could eat a COW!!!! So… in what way is that different to a living python??

  2. #2 Skloot
    February 5, 2009

    Totally, EdY. My thoughts exactly.

  3. #3 Coturnix
    February 5, 2009

    But could it a Gigantic Prehistoric Cow?

  4. #4 Danimal
    February 6, 2009

    “Plenty of sakes eat things like crocodiles.” Stupid question: What is a sake?

  5. #5 Rob Jase
    February 6, 2009

    2500 feet long!

    Imagine the trousers it would have lived in.

  6. #6 gillt
    February 6, 2009

    But wait, aren’t there any gators or crocs a python might have to contend with in SE Asia? Conversely, weren’t there once large constrictors in the Everglades?

  7. #7 Tenebras
    February 6, 2009

    “Stupid question: What is a sake?”

    Rice wine, although how it would eat a crocodile, I’m not entirely sure. That must be some potent sake.

  8. #8 eddie
    February 6, 2009

    Your previous post may show the solution to this crisis.

  9. #9 Lab Rat
    February 12, 2009

    I don’t think there are many crocs and alligators in burma (where i am assuming this snake origonally came from) and if so the local snakes have probably learnt to keep away.

    Or maybe they don’t, and there are many exploding snakes in SE asia that just never get reported.

  10. #10 MattK
    March 21, 2009

    No one is concerned about whether the burms explode or get eaten by gators. The issue is that there are no native big constrictors in the everglades and there is concern over how the burms will affect an already severely compromised ecosystem. Whether or not there are asian crocodilians living in the native habitat of burms has no bearing on the effects that these snakes will have in the everglades.