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Gator vs. python ends in gory draw

A snake that tried to swallow an alligator in Everglades National Park found out that gators don't go down easy.

By Times Staff Writer
Published October 6, 2005


MIAMI - Talk about biting off more than you can chew.

A 13-foot Burmese python tried to swallow a 6-foot alligator in Everglades National Park - and exploded.

Scientists stumbled on the gory remains last week after a helicopter pilot spotted the carcasses. The gator's tail and hind legs were protruding from the python's ruptured gut, the two bodies locked together so tightly that it was almost hard to make out which was which.

"If the python got a good grip on the alligator before the alligator got a good grip on him, he could win," said Frank Mazzotti, a University of Florida wildlife professor who is an expert on gators and other reptiles.

Mazzotti thinks that as the gator was being swallowed, it clawed at the python's stomach, making the snake burst.

Gators have ruled Florida's swamps for centuries. But increasingly, they have had to share their turf with exotic invaders who are challenging their supremacy atop the food chain.

Pythons, probably abandoned by pet owners, have been slithering through the Everglades since the 1980s. But in the past two years alone, park biologist Skip Snow has documented 156 python captures, a surge that has convinced biologists that the snakes are multiplying in the wild.

Normally, Florida gators and Burmese pythons would never meet, much less compete. But last week's discovery marked the fourth documented encounter in the national park.

The first occurred three years ago, when awe-struck tourists on a park boardwalk witnessed a tussle between a 10- to 15-foot snake and a 6- to 9-foot gator. That fight lasted about 24 hours and ended in an apparent draw, with both swimming off and vanishing.

"It's just off-the-charts absurd to think that this kind of animal, a significant top-of-the-pyramid kind of predator in its native land, is trying to make a living in South Florida," Snow said.

After a helicopter pilot flying researchers around the park spotted the carcasses in an isolated marsh on Sept. 26, Snow went out to examine them the next day. Initially, he planned to fly them back to the laboratory for a detailed examination, but he abandoned that plan when he saw the bloated remains, which were decomposing rapidly in the heat.

"We decided there was no way we were going to do that," Snow said. "Something was going to go wrong, and it was going to be nasty."

Instead, he examined them on the spot, taking careful note of things such as wounds on the gator's head and large wads of alligator skin in what remained of the snake's digestive tract.

To add to the macabre mystery, the snake's head was missing.

Snow's theory: After the snake was dead, another gator got it.

Information from the Miami Herald and the Associated Press was used in this report.