How to control the booming and expanding Burmese python population in Florida and the American southeast is a problem confounding scientists. Alligators versus pythons seems to be one natural hope for partial control. A new study suggests that alligators eat pythons at most life stages.
According to Yahoo News a new alligators versus pythons study is giving clues about the interaction of the two species. The study involved tracking baby pythons with transmitters and mortality sensors to find out what happened to them. The study was conducted by the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) and partners.
The USGS is deeply involved in python control through its Wildlife Aquatic Research Center (WARC), From the website:
“Native to Africa, Asia, and Australia, many python species have found their way to the United States thanks to their popularity in the pet trade. However, by way of an intentional or accidental release, one such popular pet snake species, the Burmese python, was introduced in South Florida. They have since established a breeding population and are now considered to be one of the most concerning invasive species in the Everglades National Park. These ambush predators compete with other native predators for prey, which ranges from mammals to birds to even other reptiles. In fact, severe mammal declines in Everglades National Park have been linked to the Burmese pythons. WARC researchers are engaged in a number of projects aimed to understand invasive python biology and ecology to help inform environmental managers tasked with control and eradication efforts.”
The baby pythons (Python bivittatus) were captured and transmitters were implanted. The transmitters had “mortality sensors” which go off when the the animal stops moving for more than a set period of time: The website said:
“Juvenile Burmese pythons were opportunistically collected throughout more than a year. They were implanted with high-frequency radio transmitters equipped with mortality sensors that notified researches when the snake stopped moving for 24 hours. “The number of baby pythons captured was not given.
During the length of the study, 19 baby snakes died. At that point, scientists would go to the scene of the crime and conduct some detective work to discover the cause of death.
The results showed that fve of the pythons were definitely killed by alligators. Three were killed by water moccasins. This shows snake vs. snake predation is part of the equation. Interestingly three
of the juveniles were killed by “carnivorous mesomammals.” They may have been cats. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) have been seen eating python eggs. However, since bobcat numbers are thought to be down 90 percent in the region the battle is probably one-sided. For the record there are three types of carnivores. Hypocarnivores eat the least meat. They include foxes. Mesocarnivores require 50 percent or more meat in the diet. Obligate carnivores require 70 percent or more. Cats apparently can be included in both meso and obligate lists.
Seven of the pythons died from unknown causes. Sometimes the tracking device was found with no means of identifying the cause of death. Burmese Pythons (Python bivittatus) may be expanding their range.
It appears that alligators and pythons are fairly evenly matched. Most experts feel whichever is larger in the encounter has the major advantage. The animals tend to eat different diets, too. That has traditionally limited encounters. Once either animal reaches a certain size they likely leave each other alone.