Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes in the world. Native to Asia, these snakes are also an invasive species in South Florida. They are famed for their voracious appetites, consuming prey much larger than themselves.
The preferred food of the Burmese python depends upon its size. Hatchling Burmese pythons sustain themselves on mice, quickly graduating to rats and birds. Over time, these snakes start to eat rabbits and small mammals. Eventually, a Burmese python will start to stalk farm animals, deer, and even alligators.
Like all snakes, the Burmese python prefers to avoid conflict. It will rarely hunt prey large enough to fight back. It uses constriction to subdue prey. As a result, this snake prefers to avoid battles that it may not win.
Diet of the Burmese Python
Burmese pythons have a healthy appetite. According to the ISME Journal, the snake’s gut is adapted to a feed-and-fast model. Scientists study this snake for a greater understanding of animal digestion.
On average, a Burmese python will eat every two weeks. Like all snakes, this breed digests and metabolizes food slowly. It also needs a warm temperature to digest appropriately. If the python eats particularly large prey, it can wait longer to eat.
What to feed a Burmese python depends upon its size. This table explains the minimum intake of a Burmese python. Hatchlings will eat weekly, but older pythons will be content to wait 2 weeks before hunting again.
|Hatchling:||One mouse or baby chicken|
|Older Hatchling:||Several mice or one small rat|
|4 Feet in Length:||One medium rat|
|6 Feet in Length:||One large rat or rabbit|
|8 Feet in Length:||Larger rabbits, small mammals and chickens|
|10 Feet in Length:||Farm animals and domestic pets|
|15 Feet in Length+:||Anything and everything, including deer|
As a rule, the Burmese python likes prey to be 1.5 times as wide as the snake itself. These snakes have a flexible digestive tract, though. According to the Journal of Experimental Biology, this snake’s small intestine can swell to three times its fasting size.
This aids Burmese pythons, who may need to sustain themselves on larger animals. These snakes prefer to feed on smaller prey that is easily subdued. Taking down substantial animals is the act of a brave and hungry python.
Rats and Mice
Rodents are the core diet of hatchling Burmese pythons. Like rats and mice, Burmese pythons are nocturnal. This means the snake will find a steady food source available. The hispid cotton rat, cotton mouse, old-world rat, rice rat, and woodrat are all common meals.
Hairy mice and rats are more appealing to Burmese pythons than pinky mice. These animals will be larger and have stronger heartbeats. The warm blood pumped by these hearts will stimulate the python.
Many Burmese pythons will graduate from eating rodents before long. While small pythons sustain themselves on rats and mice, bigger snakes prefer larger meals. The python will need to hunt regularly if it does not eat enough. This is unappealing to snakes, who prefer to remain out of sight.
Birds and Poultry
Birds are another popular delicacy for younger Burmese pythons. While these snakes are young and comparatively light, they climb trees. This provides easy access to hatching birds. As a Burmese python grows, it tends to stay closer to the ground.
Despite this, any python will eat a bird if hungry. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology surveyed the remains of 85 Burmese pythons. 25 different types of birds were found within the stomach of these snakes.
Some of these avian species are endangered, and many were native to South Florida. This makes pythons almost as dangerous to the bird population as cats.
In addition to common or garden birds, Burmese pythons eat poultry. Farm owners in Asia often need to protect chickens from these snakes. A hatchling Burmese python could also eat a baby chick. Typically, the snake needs to grow before digesting a full chicken.
Rabbits and Small Mammals
Once a python starts to grow larger, birds and rats will no longer satisfy its appetite. At this stage, the snake will look for small mammals. These become the staple diet of Burmese pythons, unless the snake is uncharacteristically aggressive.
Rabbits are the core animal of any Burmese python’s diet. The marsh rabbit, in particular, dwells close to the Florida Everglades. A Burmese python can hide underwater, striking when the rabbit takes a drink.
In its natural habit of Asia, the Burmese python will hunt otters. If rabbits are not available in Florida, Burmese pythons eat a range of other small mammals. Squirrels. opossums, and raccoons are popular delicacies for these snakes.
Rabbits are least likely to fight back and hurt a python, though. Some other prey animals are feistier. As a rabbit has weak and brittle bones, it is also easier to asphyxiate. This is why this species remains a common meal.
Domestic Pets and Farm Animals
Burmese pythons are capable of eating larger animals. This could include farm animals, such as pigs or goats. This is a common problem in Asia. As more homesteads are built on natural snake territory, farms are becoming increasingly popular hunting grounds.
Of more immediate concern for U.S. natives are household pets. Rabbits are obviously at substantial risk. Never allow a pet rabbit to run free in South Florida. If spotted by a Burmese python, there will only be one outcome.
These snakes may also tackle cats. While a Burmese python could asphyxiate a cat, the feline will fight to defend itself. Feline teeth and claws and easily hurt a python.
To this end, cats and snakes will typically leave each other alone. Take appropriate precautions if you live near Burmese python land, though. If a snake is hungry enough, it will target a cat as a meal.
Deer and Grazing Animals
Burmese pythons are capable of eating prey substantially larger than themselves. This could extend to grazing deer. In Asia especially, Burmese pythons are regularly found with deer in their stomachs.
This will never be a python’s go-to meal. It will take a long time for a Burmese python to swallow a white-tailed deer. This leaves the snake vulnerable. While Burmese pythons have few wild predators, they still prefer to remain out of sight.
If a python eats a deer, it will not need to feed again for some time. The metabolism process will take a prolonged period. Like all snakes, Burmese pythons also struggle to digest in cold temperatures. This means they are likely to stalk such large prey in summer months.
Alligators and Crocodiles
Believe it or not, a Burmese python is capable of eating an alligator or crocodile. Pythons regularly cross paths with alligators in the Florida Everglades. A battle for the role of apex predator of the swamp follows.
Some Burmese pythons will attempt to eat crocodiles in the Asian jungle. As there are plenty of alternative food sources here though, the animals are less likely to meet. Both reptiles can find alternative meals.
The python would need to be particularly large to tackle a crocodile or alligator. In one memorable case, a 13-feet python literally burst after consuming an alligator. The snake was brave to attempt this meal. Most Burmese pythons would look for easier prey.
Burmese pythons are considered a pest by Floridians. Many hope that native alligators will keep the snake population under control. Evidence suggests that this conflict will end in a stalemate at best.
Would a Burmese Python Eat a Human?
It is hypothetically possible for Burmese pythons over 20 feet long to eat a small human. It is unlikely, though. This snake is docile around humans.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences surveyed 120 natives of the Philippines, who lived close to native Burmese pythons. 16 of these individuals were attacked by pythons, but all survived.
These attacks revolved around bites, but none feared being eaten. There has never been a case of a Burmese python eating a human in the USA. It has happened on rare occasions overseas, though.
Although Burmese pythons may not eat humans, they will bite. Their bite may not be venomous, but it will bleed. Even more dangerous is the threat of asphyxiation. Most adult Burmese pythons will ignore humans unless provoked. Hatchlings are more skittish and nervous, though.
If you encounter a Burmese python in the wild, slowly back away. If you ignore the snake, it will return the favor. Do not antagonize it.