Nature is full of odd and difficult to explain actions. The seeming fact that cotton rats escape the python’s grip may be one of them. Or maybe they don’t, despite the headlines.
As we know Burmese python populations have exploded in Florida. Some estimates say they have eaten 90 per cent of the mammals in some areas. Rats, specifically the cotton rat also seem to be exploding in number. So the possibility exists that cotton rats escape the python’s grip.
Or perhaps not.
The answer may be simple. Pythons are eating plenty of rats. But because they also eat all the other predators in the region, the rats are simply bearing more surviving young. The rats in question are cotton rats, 14 rats of the genus Sigmodon. They live all over North and South America. Sigmodon hispidus, the most studied, is about eight ounces. Significantly, it produces several litters a year with 1 to 15 pups per litter. It is what happens to those pups that matters.
Rats are prolific, but they have many enemies on sea, air and land. Everything from alligators to large spiders can kill them. Wipe out most of the land based predators and watch what happeens. That, at least, is what the research seems to be saying.
Researchers collared cotton rats and found that although the pythons ate rats, it didn’t impact the population. The absence of foxes, bobcats, other snakes and other predators created a gap the rats are filling.
They seem to be the only mammals around in some areas. So it looks like cotton rats escape/ There are more of them.
This is bad for three reasons. The cotton rat is so-called because it destroys cotton and other crops. It is also a reservoir for a number of diseases. Some of these diseases are mosquito borne and can attack humans. Finally, The rats do not fulfill the ecological niches that the vanished animals fill. For example, rabbits were key to dispersing seeds. Cotton rats will not be as efficient.
Florida is battling many invasive species including Asian swamp eels.