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Burmese pythons wreaking havoc in Florida

Researchers routinely find deer hooves and the remains of other big animals in their stomachs.

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University of Cincinnati professor Bruce Jayne demonstrates the gape of a euthanized Burmese python specimen in his lab.(Bruce Jayne via SWNS )

By Alice Clifford via SWNS

This picture shows why Burmese pythons are wreaking havoc in Everglades National Park in southern Florida.

The invasive species have been found gobbling up prey as large as deer using their unhinged massive jaws.

They have also been known to eat alligator whole.

Since they were introduced to the park in the 1980s, their big appetites have disrupted the natural ecology of the area.

Researchers routinely find deer hooves and the remains of other big animals in their stomachs.

Dr. Ian Bartoszek, environmental science project manager for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and co-author of the study, photographed one python regurgitating a full-grown white-tailed deer.

“The Everglades ecosystem is changing in real time based on one species, the Burmese python," he said.

While they can grow to more than 18 feet and weigh 200 pounds, they can gobble up animals much larger.

Along with their huge heads and bodies, their lower jaws have super stretchy skin that allows them to eat deer, birds and alligators completely whole.

Unlike humans, their lower jaw bones are not connected, allowing them to open their mouths disturbingly wide.

Professor Bruce C. Jayne, PhD assistant department head shown here with one of his snakes at his lab at Rievschl. UC/ Joseph Fuqua II . (Joseph Fuqua II/ University of Cincinnati via SWNS)

Their jaws let them eat prey up to six times larger than similar-sized snakes.

Dr. Bruce Jayne, professor of biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati, and lead author of the study, said: “The stretchy skin between left and right lower jaws is radically different in pythons.

"Just over 40 percent of their total gape area on average is from stretchy skin. Even after you correct for their large heads, their gape is enormous.”

To make the kill, pythons bite their prey and wrap their powerful coils around it, fatally cutting off the animal’s vital blood flow. Once dead, the python can eat it at its leisure.

"The bigger the prey, the more energy a snake derives from a meal," Jayne said.

"For pythons, that means not having to hunt as often, which can carry extensive risk in a world full of busy roads and dangerous predators."

A Burmese python in Everglades National Park regurgitates a white-tailed deer. (Ian Bartoszek/Conservancy of Southwest Florida via SWNS).

While these snakes can be vicious, they still are at risk of being hunted themselves. Wading birds, minks, raccoons, alligators and other snakes are all partial to eating pythons.

Consuming giant dinners allow snakes to grow, making them stronger against other predators.

“Once those pythons get to a reasonable size, it’s pretty much just alligators that can eat them," Jayne said.

"And pythons eat alligators."

This ecological takeover isn't uncommon. In the 1950s, brown tree snakes were introduced to Guam and wiped out multiple bird species.

Scientists are working tirelessly to prevent these pythons multiplying.

A large female python can lay more than 100 eggs, so scientists try and find them before they lay them. To do this they implant radio transmitters on the males during breeding season.

But if you are in the area there is no need to worry, as these pythons rarely attack people.

Bartoszek said the only scary encounter he has had was with females guarding their nests.

He said: "It’s way more dangerous to drive there than to work with the snakes."

The study was published in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology.

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