Alligators vs. Burmese Pythons: Who Would Win in a Fight?

The American alligator and the Burmese python are two large predators that share a habitat in Southern Florida. But what happens when these two species meet? And which one would win in a fight?

American alligators, which can grow to more than 12 feet in length and weigh as much as 1,000 pounds, have long been considered the top predator in the region. These reptiles are found all over the state in marshes, swamps, rivers and lakes.

Now, however, this species' reign is being challenged by the Burmese python, which is native to Southeast Asia but has become a hugely successful invasive species in Southern Florida over the past few decades.

Burmese pythons, which can grow to around 20 feet in length, were introduced to Florida in the 1970s and 1980s when thousands of them were imported to be sold as exotic pets.

Some of these snakes were accidentally or intentionally released. Eventually, they began to breed, establishing a population in the southern area of the state, primarily in the Everglades ecosystem.

Given that both of these large animals are found in the state's southern region, they sometimes come into contact.

"Both the American alligator and the Burmese python are apex predators within the Greater Everglades Ecosystem and would encounter each other through a range of size classes and habitat types," Ian Bartoszek, a wildlife biologist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, told Newsweek.

American Alligator and Burmese python
American alligators and Burmese pythons have been known to prey on each other in the Florida Everglades. FWC/Andy Wraithmell/iStock

Burmese pythons are generalist predators and eat a wide variety of animals in Florida. In fact, dramatic declines in some native wildlife species have been linked to the invasive python. On occasion, the snakes have even been recorded eating alligators.

Burmese pythons have virtually no predators in the region because their large size and maturation at a young age. Alligators are perhaps the one exception, as they are known to sometimes eat the pythons. But sometimes they are victims of the snakes themselves.

"Both American alligators and Burmese pythons predate upon each other," Bartoszek said.

Both species reach apex predator size within the Greater Everglades ecosystem and interact at all size classes. During predatory encounters between American alligators and Burmese pythons, size would matter and likely dictate the outcome, Bartoszek said.

An American alligator
American alligators have long been considered the top predator in the Florida Everglades. iStock

"When both species are young they are more vulnerable to predation, so a hatchling python would be no match for a juvenile alligator and vice versa," he said.

He continued, "We have radio-tracked both hatchling and adult pythons to the bellies of American alligators, but we don't have reliable data on how often predation occurs from the perspective of both species. In the winter months, adult pythons tend to be more interested in mating behaviors and don't feed as often. But otherwise, alligator is on the menu when they have an opportunistic encounter."

Bartoszek said it would be unlikely for a large python to eat a very large alligator, but it is possible.

A Burmese python
Burmese pythons are a thriving invasive species in Florida. iStock

"It is more likely for a large alligator to eat a large python, and we've seen evidence of this in our telemetry study tracking pythons," he said. "Both are opportunistic predators and will size up prey accordingly."

He added that smaller alligators are showing up more often in the diets of pythons in the eastern Everglades, which may be a sign that mammalian prey species have been wiped out from the area.

Bartoszek said he was not aware of any accounts of pythons scavenging on alligators that are already dead. But he suspects alligators would have no problem eating a dead python.

"Large adult American alligators are still kings of the Everglades, and they should generally win most encounters with Burmese pythons," he said. "But the moral of the story is to not underestimate the Burmese python, within reason."

Some researchers, however, now think that Burmese pythons can be considered the top predators in the Everglades.

Michael Kirkland, a biologist with the South Florida Water Management District, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, "Pythons really are the apex predator now—a large python and a large alligator, either one could win that battle. The alligator is about the only native animal down here that could possibly win."