April 7, 2012
Researchers Find Evidence That Evergaldes Pythons Are Eating Bird Eggs
Burmese pythons, which have already been observed attacking birds in the Florida Everglades, have now been seen eating those birds' eggs directly from the nest, according to new research from the Smithsonian Institution.
According to Jennifer Welsh of LiveScience, the study, which has been published in the March issue of the journal Reptiles & Amphibians: Conservation and Natural History, details three cases in which the Smithsonian researchers discovered eggs inside of the pythons, which they suspect have been swallowed whole.
"The three cases include a 14-pound (about 6 kilogram) male python stretching some 8.5 feet (about 2.6 meters) in length, which they collected near a house in Florida's Miami-Dade County. The snake threw up 10 guinea fowl eggs soon after it was captured. The team discovered the remains of two bird eggs in another python collected for the study -- a female weighing 30 pounds (about 13 kg), with a length of more than 10 feet (3 m)," Welsh added.
Burmese pythons are native to southern Asia but have been discovered in increasing numbers in Florida -- particularly in the Everglades -- since they were first discovered there in 1979. Since then they have been out-competing local wildlife for both resources and living space, and have even begun eating creatures native to the area.
Scientists estimate that there may be as many as tens of thousands of pythons living in the area currently, and Smithsonian scientists have teamed with experts from the National Park Service (NPS) and other institutions in order to analyze the contents of the digestive tracts of the reptiles. While they had collected evidence that the Burmese pythons had consumed more than two dozen different species of Florida-based birds, they only recently discovered proof that the snakes had been eating their eggs.
"This finding is significant because it suggests that the Burmese python is not simply a sit-and-wait predator, but rather is opportunistic enough to find the nests of birds," Carla Dove, an ornithologist at the Smithsonian's Feather Identification Lab in the National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Although the sample size is small, these findings suggest that the snakes have the potential to negatively affect the breeding success of native birds."
Image 1: Burmese pythons, native to southern Asia, have taken up a comfortable residence in the state of Florida, especially in the Everglades. In addition to out-competing native wildlife for resources and habitat, the pythons are eating the native wildlife. Credit: Chin Kit Sen / Shutterstock.com
Image 2: Two Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) crushed but intact eggs (top) recovered from a Burmese python digestive tract and compared to a reference Limpkin specimen from the Smithsonian´s collection (below) for size and color patterns. The arrow shows fragments of eggshells from the python sample placed on the Smithsonian specimen for color comparison. Credit: Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution