Snake in Florida Eats Python as Chilling X-Ray Reveals Bones

Zoo Miami made a surprising discovery when it couldn't locate a Burmese python it had been tracking in Florida. Instead, it found a native cottonmouth snake, with the python and its tracker ingested inside.

X-ray images released by the zoo show the consumed snake's spine and the tracker visible inside the prey's body. The x-ray also shows that the Burmese python was eaten tail-first by the native snake.

"The snake was actually found consumed by a Cottonmouth in the Picayune Strand State Forest in Southwest Florida in May of 2021," Zoo Miami's Communications Director Ron Magill told Newsweek.

"It was being tracked as part of an overall invasive species study by U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the United States Geological Survey on Burmese pythons in the Greater Everglades system in Southern Florida. By implanting these snakes with transmitters, researchers are able to study their movements in hopes of developing better ways to control this invasive species."

Consumed Burmese Python
X-ray images show the Burmese Python's spine and tracker. Zoo Miami

Researchers found far more than they bargained for however when they discovered that one of those tracked snakes had been consumed by another, larger snake that is native to the area.

Zoo Miami referred to the incident as the native species "fighting back" against the invasive python. Surgeons at Zoo Miami helped in the research by implanting the trackers into the various snakes.

The radiograph shared by the zoo online shows the spine and transmitter of the python visible inside the body of the cottonmouth snake.

The Burmese python is a large non-venomous constrictor that is an unwelcome invasive species in Florida. They are found in the Everglades ecosystem but are a threat to native wildlife and species.

Between July and September 2020, Burmese pythons were captured and surgically inserted with the trackers, before being released back to their point of capture just 24 hours later. Most of these locations were low elevation swamp within Picayune Strand State Forest of Big Cypress National Preserve.

Cottonmouth snake
Image of the cottonmouth snake found by researchers. Zoo Miami

The snakes were tracked once to twice per week by researchers. One of those snakes was a 10-month-old female, tracked to the base of a cypress tree. Despite its tracker suggesting otherwise, researchers were unable to locate the snake. Instead, they found only a cottonmouth snake "with an obvious food bolus."

That food bolus however turned out to be the Burmese python, consumed by the serpent. Twenty-five days after being re-released, the cottonmouth snake expelled the tracker.

It was the second time researchers found an incident of snake-snake consumption. In August, they radio-tracked a transmitter frequency to a location, finding only a cottonmouth snake instead. A radiograph of the snake showed the tracker inside it, suggesting consumption of the tracked Burmese python.

Researchers are keen to continue looking further into the changing diets of native species, thanks to new invasive species in Florida.

Correction 08/23/22, 6:32 a.m. ET: This article was corrected to remove the word "cannibal" from the headline.