A Burmese python in the Everglades with a penchant for venison gulped down three whole deer - one doe and two fawns - before wildlife officials captured and euthanized it, a new study reveals.
The gustatory feat sets a record: It's the first invasive Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) caught with three deer in its gut, said study co-lead author Scott Boback, an associate professor of biology at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.
The python probably attacked and ate the deer at different times over a 90-day period, Boback said. That time span may seem long, but it's actually quite surprising that a snake would eat three enormous meals in a relatively short window, Boback told Live Science. [Photos: This Invasive Python Ate Three Wild Deer]
"If a python is capable of eating three deer in three months," what else are they eating that we don't know about, he asked. "We don't even know how many of them are out there [in the Everglades]."
Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, but for reasons still shrouded in mystery, they became established in the Everglades during the 1990s. The snakes can grow to be up to 18 feet (5.5 meters) long in the Everglades (and up to 26 feet, or 8 m, long in Southeast Asia). They use their strong muscles to wrap around prey, obstructing their victims' blood flow until circulation stops.
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It's unclear how the python attacked the deer, but the snake may have hid in the water, waiting for the deer to stop for a drink. That would have left the deer within striking distance of the snake, Boback said.
The 15.6-foot-long (4.8 m) female snake was almost done digesting its three massive meals when officials caught and euthanized it on June 3, 2013. A necropsy, or animal autopsy, revealed an empty stomach but intestines packed with poop.
The fecal matter was immense: more than 14 lbs. (6.5 kilograms), or 13 percent of the snake's body mass, Boback said. Study co-researchers Teresa Hsu and Suzanne Peurach, scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, sieved through the excrement and found mats of fur and several undigested hooves, bones and teeth, indicating that the python had eaten white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) - and not just one, Boback said.
It's no surprise that the fur, hooves and teeth were undigested, as pythons can't break down keratin or enamel, Boback said. However, they can digest bone, which would explain why the researchers found only fragments of bone in the dung, he said.