22 February 2012
Posted in NatureWorks
Suppose you’re out in the Everglades watching a six-foot alligator when out of the reeds springs an even bigger python that suddenly latches on to it and attempts to devour it whole! The non-venomous Burmese python’s natural habitat may be Southeast Asia but due to human intervention these reptilian creatures are coming to the Everglades near you! It became a startling phenomenon a decade ago not only due to owners releasing their pets and accidental escapes but breeding among the freed pythons as well. A female Burmese python can lay up to 100 eggs with an average of about 36 eggs. That’s a lot of pythons from even one snake! Especially for a breed that can grow up to 23 feet long and weigh upwards of 200 lbs.
According to a recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, their arrival has heralded a severe decrease in the population of several native mammals including raccoons and opossums. Researchers are having a more difficult time monitoring the effects of the python’s presence on endangered animals such as the Florida panther. Even if they don’t interact with the panthers, they are still affecting them by consuming their food source of small mammals.
It’s difficult to estimate how many pythons are slithering free throughout the one and a half million acres of the Everglades. In an interview with PBS, Shawn Heflick, President of the Central Florida Herpetological Society, says he believes “that the true number is closer to between 5,000 to 10,000 animals. The 100,000 plus numbers are inflated and sensationalized by politicians and some of the local media, but no one has the real answer to exactly how many are out there.”
Park personnel have taken preventative measures with Ivegot1.org where visitors can report sightings and learn about the species as well as offensive measures such as using detection dogs to sniff out the snakes. Recently the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made it illegal to import these pythons into the U.S. as well as transport them across state lines. Even with these efforts only time will tell as to whether the situation can be contained.
Image Source: The Nature Conservancy.