Giant Python Meals That Went Bust

Sometimes, even in our dog-eat-dog world, particularly epic meals catch our attention. So it was with the nearly 16-foot (5-meter) female Burmese python that recently swallowed a 76-pound (35-kilogram) female deer near Florida‘s Everglades National Park.

Neither hunter nor prey survived the ordeal—the snake was shot in the head with a shotgun, per protocol, according to CNN—but the graphic pictures later told the tale.

The female snake weighed in at 215 pounds. Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District.

Burmese pythons are infrequent eaters, so they’re gluttons on the rare occasions when they do eat. In fact, I just wrote a story last week about how their hearts and other organs expand to help digest their giant dinners. (The short answer—fatty acids in their blood.) The reptiles kill by constricting—they’ll ambush a likely meal, grab hold with backward-curving teeth, and wrap around the victim, suffocating it to death. The snakes then open their hinged jaws wide to swallow their prey whole.

The arrival of the 20-foot (6-meter) reptiles into Florida swamps a few decades ago “was the biggest, [most] devastating problem that Florida ever could have imagined,” Kenneth Krysko, senior herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, told me for a story I wrote on Florida’s invasive pythons in 2009.

Since the Southeast Asian snake has taken up residence in the state, “dozens of species of native wildlife, from white-tailed deer to 6-foot [183-centimeter] alligators to birds, have been found in the digestive tracts of Burmese pythons,” wildlife biologist Robert Reed, who studies invasive reptiles for the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado, told me for the same story.

Indeed, in 2005, a 13-foot (4-meter) Burmese python literally busted its gut eating a 6-foot-long (2-meter-long) American alligator. Writes my colleague Victoria Jaggard:

“Wildlife researchers with the South Florida Natural Resources Center found the dead, headless python in October 2005 after it apparently tried to digest a six-foot-long (two-meter-long) American alligator. The mostly intact dead gator was found sticking out of a hole in the midsection of the python, and wads of gator skin were found in the snake’s gastrointestinal tract. The gruesome discovery suggests that the python’s feisty last meal might have been simply too much for it to handle.”

A year later, firefighters in the Malaysian village of Jabor were called in to remove a bloated python that had eaten a pregnant sheep, National Geographic News reported in 2006.

The reptile had swallowed an entire pregnant sheep and was too full to slither away and digest its supersize meal. But the stress of being captured likely triggered the python to purge—it eventually regurgitated the dead ewe, we reported.

Yet my favorite story of a python with eyes too big for its stomach is that of Houdini, a 12-foot (3.5-meter) Burmese python that ate a queen-size electric blanket, complete with electrical cord and control box, in 2006.

The blanket’s wiring extended through about 8 feet (2.5 meters) of digestive tract of the 60-pound (27-kilogram) reptile—which, miraculously, lived. The blanket probably got tangled up with the snake’s rabbit dinner, owner Karl Beznoska of Ketchum, Idaho, told the Associated Press at the time.

Now that’s what you call a shocking situation.

Check out more weird coverage on National Geographic News.

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.
  • Kristal


  • Buck

    They are not the only problems stray cats do their part of damage. Why dont we go shoot them in the head too and big hunts for them. Dont put all the blame on the burmeses.

  • john

    Buck your an idiot, come back when the stray cats start eating your pets, rare animals and protected species.

  • […] (Read about giant Burmese python meals that went bust.) […]

  • Betty

    cats? Cats are not destroying the eco structure of the everglades. The problem is the idiot ‘humans’ who want an exotic pet until the pet grows so big that the idiot turns it loose where it was never intended to be.

  • Daniel S. Peterson

    I am rather surprised that the usually ‘scientific’ National Geographic, is not aware of what really happened with the ‘snake and alligator’ story. The alligator most certainly didn’t ‘burst’ the python, as it was already quite dead and already starting to show signs of digestion. And most important was the often overlooked fact that the python’s head had been bitten off, probably by a much larger alligator, that also bit the snake’s flank, causing the smaller alligator to partially slide out of it.

  • Aaron

    To the NatGeo editors…
    Surely people of your standing would have known that Kampung = Village in Malaysian, so where you have put “in the Malaysian village of Kampung Jabor” you have actually put ‘in the Malaysian village of village Jabor’. Just thought you might like to know.
    Interesting article other than that!

  • Christine Dell’Amore

    Thanks for the eagle eye Aaron! I made the fix.

  • […] “You’re talking about 68 more animals removed from the population that shouldn’t be there—that’s 68 more mouths that aren’t being fed,” said the Florida museum’s Krysko. (Read about giant Burmese python meals that went bust.) […]

  • Tess

    Thank you for all the information about the Burmese pythons it was a very interesting article

  • John culver

    I read your articles and I don’t think we should hunt them. I think instead we should capture them and put them in their natural habitat. It wasn’t their fault that their killing the Everglades. We should of never let them out their.

  • […] It's also unusual in that the whip snake managed to exit from the dead snake's mouth given snakes generally swallow their prey head first. (See "Giant Python Meals That Went Bust.") […]

  • […] But even this light pressure, when applied to a rat’s torso, makes its system goes haywire, the team discovered. (See “Giant Python Meals That Went Bust.”) […]

  • […] Males average around nine feet and females average 12, although up to 17 feet is common, Rivas says. Candisani estimated the snake he saw at 23 feet long, which would be unusual. (See “Giant Python Meals That Went Bust.”) […]

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