Both alligators and pythons are formidable predators, each with their own evolutionary strengths. With the recent explosion in the number of pythons in the Florida Everglades, there have been more and more encounters recorded between pythons and alligators.
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With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to see if one of these animals has a measurable advantage over the other.
Alligator Vs. Python: Which sits atop the swamp’s food chain?
First Things First
If you’ve never seen an alligator fight a python, well, you’re missing out.
Before we go into their respective fighting advantages, let’s watch these bad boys in action:
As the narration in the video states, the primary factor that determines which of these two reptiles will win in a fight, is their relative size.
A full grown alligator will almost always defeat a young python, and vice versa.
As Michael Dorcas of Davidson College told BBC,
We have documented pythons eating alligators, we have also documented alligators eating pythons. It depends on who is biggest during the encounter.
That is all well and good, but who has the natural advantage if their size and strength are equal? Is it possible that one could become an existential threat to the other?
Both alligators and pythons are “apex predators”, and have considerable evolutionary assets for confronting threats.
How an Alligator Kills a Python
In order for alligators to kill large prey, they usually resorts to dragging their meal under water — thrashing it around — in order to drown it. However, as you might imagine, this method won’t work too well with a python as it can easily keep it’s head above water, and can go long periods without oxygen.
However, alligators have a tremendously powerful bite.
In order for an alligator to kill a large python, it would need to either get a lucky bite on the python’s head, killing it instantly, or it would need to do sufficient damage to the python’s body.
How a Python Kills an Alligator
Pythons are constrictors, and typically suffocate their prey; but this is difficult against the rigid armor of the alligator.
In order for a python to best a gator, it would need to get a good hold, and suffocate it by swallowing the gator whole.
So, given these facts, which animal is the better fighter? I reached out to a Florida-based wildlife control expert to see if he could shed some light on this question:
The alligator has the natural edge from everything I’ve seen. They’re larger and much more cautious than the Burmese python. My concern though is that the Burmese pythons will become (if not already) much more prolific than the alligator. They will compete for food which may lead to a decline in the populations of either animal. As the pythons are exotic it is impossible to predict how this will play out, but history shows its rarely good for the native species concerned!
In a direct confrontation with an alligator and python of equal strength and size, the alligator has the natural advantage. Their tough armor and deadly bite provide a slight edge over the python. Of course, large predators of equal strength don’t battle to the death that often. It is wiser to seek out an easier meals, and avoid confrontations that will use a lot of energy.
An Alligator Clawed it’s Way Out of a Python’s Belly
A Looming Threat
Although alligators may have an advantage in direct conflicts, the introduction of the burmese python into the Florida everglades may eventually pose an existential threat to the alligators there.
Both animals subsist on the same small mammals, but pythons reproduce more quickly — a mother was recently discovered with 87 eggs — and pythons are more adept at hunting on dry land. According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, road surveys around the Everglades have “documented a 99.3% decrease in the frequency of raccoon observations, decreases of 98.9% and 87.5% for opossum and bobcat observations, respectively, and failed to detect rabbits”.
As pythons continue to grow in numbers and decimate small mammal populations, both alligators and pythons will find it much more difficult to grab an easy lunch. The threat to bio-diversity aside, without easy access to food, these huge reptiles will become more desperate, and we may see an increased number of sightings in back yards and garages.