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Amazing X-Ray Shows Python Inside Stomach of Water Moccasin That Hunted it

Native species are fighting back.

Ever wondered what a snake looked like after being eaten by another snake? Wonder no more! A python equipped with a tracker was eaten by a cottonmouth snake in Florida—and the slithery meal was all caught on x-ray. The image was taken by the Miami Zoo, coincidentally during the same month when the state of Florida had hosted the Florida Python Challenge—a python removal competition. Read on to see what researchers at Miami Zoo discovered.

Burmese Python vs. Water Moccasin

Water moccasin

Miami Zoo posted a photo of the x-ray on their official Instagram account. "You may have heard in the news about the bobcat that was documented stealing and consuming eggs from an invasive Burmese python in the Everglades," Miami Zoo captioned the post. "But, that isn't the only native species that is fighting back! A python that had its tracking transmitter implanted by surgeons at Zoo Miami was recently found to be consumed by another snake; a native cottonmouth, also known as a water moccasin. You can see the spine and the transmitter of the python inside of the cottonmouth on this x-ray, or radiograph, that was taken at Zoo Miami's animal hospital.🐍"

Don't Mess With Cottonmouths

Water moccasin x-ray

You don't want to get on the wrong side of a cottonmouth (as the python from the x-ray discovered just a little too late). Cottonmouths are a species of pit viper. They can grow to 48 inches in length and are found throughout Florida. While they are not aggressive to humans, they can be very dangerous if threatened. "One of the things people often say is that if you threaten a snake, it's going to be more likely to bite you," says Tracy Langkilde, the head of the biology department at Pennsylvania State University.

"There are times of the year during reproduction when male [testosterone] levels are real high, and they're much more dangerous during those high-T levels," says Gordon Schuett, a snake expert at Georgia State University

Viper Venom

Cottonmouth with open mouth

You really, really don't want to get bitten by a cottonmouth snake—if it happens, seek medical attention immediately. "When a cottonmouth feels threatened, it will coil its body and open its mouth wide to expose the white coloration of the inside of its mouth," says Sara Viernum, a herpetologist based in Portland, Oregon. "The flash of white contrasts with the snake's dark body colors to create a startling display. Exposing the white of the mouth serves as a warning signal to potential predators." The snake venom causes "hemorrhaging throughout the circulatory system wherever the venom has spread," and can lead to "temporary and/or permanent tissue and muscle damage; loss of an extremity, depending on the location of the bite; internal bleeding; and extreme pain around the injection area."

What Do Cottonmouth Snakes Eat?

Wild juvenile cottonmouth snake (Agkistrodon piscivorus) in Florida

Cottonmouths usually eat fish, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, invertebrates, birds, eggs, carrion and, yes, other snakes. "Cottonmouths frequently eat other types of water snakes, and they will sometimes even target other venomous pit vipers," says wildlife and nature conservation Nicky Featherstone. "They have also been known to cannibalize juvenile members of their own species… Cottonmouths are carnivores so they live entirely on a meat-based diet. They are considered opportunistic or generalist feeders; this means they will eat many different kinds of foods depending on what they can find."

Silent But Deadly

Close up image of cottonmouth snake.

Cottonmouths are sneaky killers, using both subterfuge and trickery to get their prey. "Cottonmouths often lie in hiding, waiting for their next meal to pass by," says Featherstone. "Sometimes they will float in the water with their mouths open, waiting for fish or other water creatures to swim inside; other times they will coil up in tall grasses or under forest debris to wait for land animals. Still other times, they will wiggle their tails like a worm in order to attract prey to them. This is especially true of juvenile cottonmouths, which have bright yellow tails that assist with attracting insects and small animals. Once their prey gets close enough, the snake will lunge forward and bite down hard, injecting venom through its fangs. If the prey animal is large, the snake will let go and allow it to escape, following it at a safe distance until it dies."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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