Bobcat in Florida Everglades Preys on Burmese Python Eggs
Bobcats are a common site in the Florida Everglades. Of the two native cat species found there — the other is the Florida panther — bobcats are not endangered. However, the bobcat population in the Everglades has gone down by nearly 90 percent since an exotic invasive species came to town: the Burmese python, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Burmese pythons were brought to Miami in the 1980s as exotic pets, but it was during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 that experts think the invasive snakes really took over. The hurricane destroyed a breeding facility and unknown numbers of the pythons were unleashed into the swamplands nearby, reported history.com.
Tens of thousands of Burmese pythons that live in the Everglades have been responsible for the decline of many native animal species, including raccoons, bobcats, rabbits and foxes.
A camera trap set by a team of researchers caught a bobcat dining on the eggs of a large Burmese python and subsequently swiping at the snake. It was the first documentation of such activities in Florida, according to the team’s findings, which were published in the journal Ecology and Evolution last month.
“The more of those types of things that we can see, the stronger the case that maybe the Everglades is fighting back,” said south Florida field studies lead with the USGS and lead author of the report, Andrea Currylow, as reported by The Wildlife Society.
The bobcat stumbled upon the python nest in the Big Cypress National Preserve, located about 50 miles west of Miami. At first, the owner of the nest wasn’t around and the bobcat bit open some of the eggs.
The bobcat’s first encounter with the nest was in the evening and the bobcat liked the python eggs so much it returned three times that same night, reported The New York Times.
The next morning the bobcat returned to cover the eggs with leaves, sticks and brush, returning that evening to find the python guarding her nest. The cat, which weighed roughly 20 pounds, realized that the much larger python was a danger and left.
However, the eggs must have been pretty tasty because the bobcat returned the following night and again the next morning, when the two predators confronted each other.
“We were completely floored. We had no idea that the nests of these snakes were being depredated,” said Currylow, as reported by The New York Times.
The research team found the python on her ravaged nest when they came to get the camera.
Of the eggs in the nest, 42 had been destroyed.
According to the researchers, about 16 percent of bobcats’ prey in Florida consists of birds — and probably their nest eggs too — but there are not many accounts of reptile nests being targeted by bobcats.
“Egg hunting in bobcats is really a learned behavior,” said wildlife ecologist at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Dr. Mathias Tobler, as The New York Times reported. “Once some individuals figure out how to prey on python eggs they could potentially do this quite regularly.”