Burmese Python Eats Ten Bird Eggs, Vomits; Scientists Worried | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


Burmese Python Eats Ten Bird Eggs, Vomits; Scientists Worried

An eight-foot-long Burmese python captured in Miami-Dade last year either watched Cool Hand Luke far too many times or was just very stupid and very hungry.

According to a new study, the snake puked up ten intact bird eggs soon after the Miami-Dade Venom Response Program captured it. Meanwhile, the remains of two eggs from a bird known as a Limpkin were discovered in the guts of a ten-foot long female python.  

Study author Carla Dove of the Smithsonian's Feather Identification Lab says the findings are disconcerting because Burmese pythons haven't been known to go after bird eggs in the past. 

"This could indicate that maybe they're seeking out birds nests," Dove tells the New Times.  

Snakes devouring eggs straight from the nest -- especially from a bird such as the Limpkin, a species of "special interest" to state wildlife regulators because of its declining population -- isn't a good sign for the Everglades' ecosystem. If this is a new dining trend among the invasive snakes, bird populations might get knocked out of whack. 

But there's hope that the snakes discussed in this study were just annoying foodies looking to try something new. 

First, Dove says the study, published in Reptiles & Amphibians: Conservation and Natural History, details only three instances of the pythons eating bird eggs. "It's not a huge sample," she says.

Second, Burmese pythons don't have the digestive tools needed to make a decent meal from bird eggs. Just look at the near-perfect condition of these five Guineafowl eggs thrown up by the eight-footer:  

See, only certain types of snakes have evolved to be egg eaters. These species tend to have spike-like structures on the vertebrae of their esophagus that puncture the egg and deliver that yolky good stuff. This presumably makes digestion a whole lot easier. 

Burmese pythons, however, don't have these anatomic utensils.   

"It is possible they're just testing and trying things out," Dove says. "But it could suggest that they're getting a taste for eggs and that they might start attacking the reproduction level of these birds."

The snakes are known to go after full-grown birds of all sorts, including roosters, as shown here: 

The debate over whether Burmese pythons are permanently altering the Everglades' food chain is a hot one, and Dove's study adds a new component. Going bonkers over only three snakes eating some eggs, one of which vomited the meal back up, might be a tad reactionary. It does seem like something worth monitoring, and those tasked with performing necropsies on these snakes should probably keep their eyes peeled for eggshell fragments. Or whole eggs. Who knows? 

"Something is going on," Dove says. "Are snakes learning how to go after eggs and seek out birds' nests? Or is this something we didn't know initially know about them."

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