The Python Versus The Alligator

The residents of the shack are nature lovers and interested in science. As you may recall we have blogged about pythons that tried to eat alligators, sheep and alligators that have eaten people. Now we are pleased to provide you with some more news about pythons in the Everglades.

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Florida (AP) — “SNAKE!” Hearing this shout, Skip Snow slammed on the brakes. When the off-roader plowed to a halt, he and his partner, Lori Oberhofer, leaped out and took off running toward two snakes, actually — a pair of 10-foot Burmese pythons lying on a levee, sunning themselves.

After slipping, sliding and tumbling down a rocky embankment, Snow, a wildlife biologist, grabbed one of the creatures by the tail. The python, Oberhofer says, did not care much for that.

“It made a sound like Darth Vader breathing,” she says, “and then its head swung around and I saw this white mouth flying through the air.”

Snow saw the mouth, too — the jaws open 180 degrees, the gums an obscene white, the needle-sharp teeth bared in an almost devilish grin. He let out a shriek, then blinked, and when his eyes opened the python’s head was hanging in mid-air, less than a foot from his own.

Oberhofer, with a Ninja-like thrust, had snared the python in mid-strike.

“I snagged it right behind its head, on its neck,” the 43-year-old wildlife technician recalls. “It was pure reflex — a defensive move. I don’t know if I could ever do it again.”

The python hadn’t succumbed yet, however. “They defecate on you, on purpose, hoping to make you reconsider what you’re doing,” Oberhofer says. “It’s not pleasant.”

Nope, I don’t think that it would be. Let’s take a look at the story highlights for a moment

• Foreign snake species threatening native wildlife in Everglades
• Python prey: Raccoons, possums, muskrats and native cotton rats
• More than 1 million pythons have been imported to the U.S. since 2000
• Slithery giants can grow as long as 26 feet, weigh more than 200 pounds

And now back to the story

Scientists also worry that these slithery giants — which have been known to grow as long as 26 feet — may soon start to feast on native species whose survival is in doubt.

“The Everglades doesn’t work by itself anymore,” says Leon Howell, 58, who has been associated with the park for the last 21 years as a visitor, naturalist, fishing guide and, presently, park ranger. “This whole landscape has to be managed today: water, fire, exotics — you name it.”

Which explains the evolution of Snow and Oberhofer into a human firewall against non-native exotics. Without them, Howell figures, “there’d be pythons all over the place.”

A decade ago, Snow and Oberhofer spent their days reintroducing rare, native birds to the pinelands and monitoring “indicator” species, such as wading birds, alligators, bald eagles, panthers. Then, in the late ’90s, pythons began turning up.

Pet owners were releasing their giant, unwanted snakes in and around the park. But convincing the public that pythons are a danger to this otherworldly mosaic of marshes, sloughs, marl prairies and shadowy hammocks was, and still is, a tough sell.

Perhaps that is because of the Everglades’ primeval nature. Truly: Where else in North America can the visitor find crocodiles, manatees and rainbow-colored tree snails, roseate spoonbills and ghost orchids, towering royal palms and gumbo limbos? Here, biblical clouds of mosquitoes can turn a white off-road vehicle black within seconds. Waterlilies can perfume the air for miles.

At night, the beam of a lamp through a marsh often catches the eerie, ruby shine of a lurking alligator’s eyes.

Drained and abused wetlands

Yet, as vast and threatening as these wetlands may appear, they have been so drained and abused by humans in the last century that a population of pythons, if left unchallenged, could take down this fragile web of life within a generation.

“It’s a now-or-never thing,” Oberhofer says. “We still have a chance, with the python’s numbers being so limited, to do something. But if we let this go, we don’t know how far the pythons will migrate, how much they will reproduce.”

One thing is certain, Snow says. “They’ll eat just about everything that’s warm-blooded.”

Three years ago, a party of bird-watchers walking along the eastern Everglades’ Anhinga Trail stumbled upon a death match of super predators — python versus alligator. The gator, it appeared, had the upper hand: Its jaws, capable of a bite pressure of more than 3,000 pounds per square inch, were clenched on the snake, and for hours the gator carried its prey about, waiting for the python to go limp.

But it didn’t; after nearly 30 hours the python wriggled free of the alligator’s jaws and swam off into the high grass. “We looked for buzzards feeding on a snake carcass,” Snow recalls, “but we never found any.”

That a python could survive a gator attack was a red flag, and it was soon followed by others.

In February 2004, tourists at the Pa-hay-okee Overlook watched, stunned, as a python wrapped itself around an alligator, which countered by rolling over and grabbing the snake in its mouth and swimming off. And then, last fall, the carcasses of a 13-foot python and a 6-foot gator that had squared off were found later floating in a marsh, the gator’s tail and hind legs protruding from the split-open gut of the python.

“Sometimes,” says Snow, “pythons swallow things they shouldn’t.”

That last line is a bit disturbing, isn’t it.

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  1. Jack's Shack December 22, 2006 at 8:39 am

    I try. 🙂

  2. Anonymous December 21, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    Not if they had a milchig breakfast.

    Oh my goodness Jack – you crack me up!

  3. Jack's Shack December 21, 2006 at 5:09 am


    It does sound unpleasant.


    My pleasure.

    Do you think they eat Chinese kids?

    Not if they had a milchig breakfast.

  4. orieyenta December 21, 2006 at 4:43 am

    Great timing Jack. The weather is nice here and we were planning a bike ride in the Everglades…maybe I should re-think this. Do you think they eat Chinese kids?

  5. mist1 December 21, 2006 at 2:20 am

    Ewwww. Snake crap.

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