09 Dec 2016

Can’t Eat Just One

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16-foot female (an invasive species record) had the remains of three deer in its system.

Sporting Classics:

Burmese pythons are the scourge of the Florida Everglades, eating anything they can fit inside their cavernous jaws. They’re known to eat deer when the opportunity arises, but one invasive serpent has officially set a world record: three deer in its gut at the same time.

In 2013 wildlife officials discovered the remains of a doe and two fawns in the belly of a 15.6-foot Burmese python. The snake was captured and later euthanized as part of a scientific study conducted by researchers from Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College, with the results of their findings being published earlier this year in the scientific journal BioInvasions Records.

“A comparative examination of bone, teeth, and hooves extracted from the fecal contents revealed that this snake consumed three white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus),” wrote lead researcher Scott Boback. “This is the first report of an invasive Burmese python containing the remains of multiple white-tailed deer in its gut.”

The paper reports that the snake likely ate the three deer at different times over an 87-day period. The presence of special teeth only present in fawns helped researchers identify the younger deer, while another tooth pointed to an animal at least 12 months in age. The growth rate of deer hooves ultimately helped the researchers determine that three deer—one older than 12 months, one 24 to 30 days old, and one roughly two weeks old—had been eaten.

Other than the hooves and teeth, researchers found a skull fragment, bits of vertebrae and appendages, and some fur, but scant else. A python is capable of digesting bone, so the remains had to be carefully examined to determine what was contained in the snake’s fecal material.

In the end, the researchers believe the snake hid from its prey in some body of water, then when they came down to drink it attacked with its backward-curving teeth and began constricting them. While pythons have been present in the Everglades since at least the 1990s, deer simply haven’t adapted to this new danger.

“Because the largest snakes native to southern Florida are not capable of consuming even mid-sized mammals, pythons likely represent a novel predatory threat to white-tailed deer in these habitats,” the researchers wrote.

Read the whole thing.


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