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I read that most Pythons would go for smaller prey, around the size of a house cat, but that larger species enjoy crocodiles, deer and even a bit of antelope for dinner. But why?

Now, I realise that evolution is ongoing, and that even in the year infinity evolution can't be expected to result in any subjective measure of "perfection". But, even so, it seems odd to me that this behaviour could have survived the eons.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the animal's physiology and it's more mobile in this state than I expect, but isn't this animal utterly defenceless for the next couple of weeks while it digests its tasty snack? Couldn't something else now come along, rip open the snake, steal its crocodile then leave the snake for dead, all without encountering much in the way of effective resistance?

One possible answer I thought of was that other animals may not much like the taste of half-digested crocodile. Conceivably, one could stalk the snake waiting for it to start swallowing the croc, then grab it while the food is still relatively fresh. But I doubt any animal that's not already substantially stronger than the snake would feel too comfortable stalking it in the first place. Is that enough to explain why Pythons have gotten into the habit of apparently making themselves sitting ducks for protracted periods of time rather than simply eating less more often?

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It's hard to answer your question directly. But one might start by noting that pythons are hardly alone - snakes in general have evolved the ability to swallow prey that is much larger than themselves. It's probably not unusual for opportunistic carnivores to stumble across gorged snakes and make a meal out of them.

But there's a flip side: Consider an animal that has to feed daily. If it doesn't gorge itself snake-style, then it will never be in such a vulnerable state. But it still has to venture out of its shelter or hiding spot to feed EVERY DAY, putting itself at risk each time.

If a snake eats just once a week, then it can spend six entire days hiding from predators.

In summary, it would appear to be a numbers game, and the statistics obviously favor snakes, which have been around for millions of years.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm that's a reasonable point. $\endgroup$ – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 7 '16 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ Please could you add some supporting scientific material that reinforces your answer and allows further reading. $\endgroup$ – rg255 Mar 8 '16 at 7:38

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