Hybrid pythons may threaten outside the Florida Everglades
Pythons as long as SUV’s are tightening their grip on the Florida Everglades, and with no natural enemies in the state, the snakes native to South-east Asia have quickly risen to the top of the food chain. A new study in the journal “Ecology and Evolution”, sets the python problem could glide than just the swamp
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. – No natural enemies in the Sunshine State, pythons indigenous to Southeast Asia have taken over the Florida Everglades.
The winding creatures killed off a large swath of native habitat when they became king of the Everglades, wreaking havoc on the sensitive ecosystem.
But now experts say the python problem slipped past the marsh, and could impact ecosystems across Florida. It is unclear how far north of the reptiles can go – the only conditions, they seem to be sensitive to colder climate – but experts worry they could easily adapt and invade other parts of the state.
“We will examine the Burmese python in the Everglades in the provision of information for management and conservation agencies…we found 13 of the 400 snakes that we analyzed had parts of the Indian python in their genome,” said Margaret Hunter, a USGS geneticist and the lead author of a study of the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) in the journal Ecology and Evolution, which concluded the snakes is a growing problem in the U.S.
In contrast to the marsh-loving Burmese python, the Indian python prefers a high, dry habitats.
“This may cause the population to expand in drier environments…maybe further north or outside of the Everglades…where the population now,” Hunter said.
She says that there is still more research needs to be done to determine when the intersection of the two python species has occurred, but there are probably three scenarios: they can be each other in their native Southeast Asia, in the trade or after arrival in the Everglades.
Researchers say that it is difficult to determine whether python sightings to the north of the Florida Everglades are a result of migration or pet releases.
But how the species developed, one thing is for sure: If the pythons to expand out of the Everglades, it would upend the state of the entire ecosystem.
“There is evidence of severe small mammal points linked to the Burmese python invasion in South Florida,” Hunter said. “Presumably, this trend could continue as the python population is expanding in the north.”
Experts hope that the animals would not survive in colder climates, but the adaptability of the snakes, she is worried.
“The only thing we can hope for is to cold periods, that is the only thing that is displayed to throw the population back, but it also kills a ton of our native animals,” said Chris Gillette, an animal expert on the Everglades Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “If you go north, there are also many other burrowing animals like gopher tortoises and armadillos, and the pythons that will make use of their dens to avoid the cold. So, if they continue to expand out of the north, it is going to be really interesting to see how this plays out.”
Python boy was first found in the Everglades National Park in the 1980s. Today, they have what scientists consider Florida’s largest invasive species, killing large numbers of animals native to the Everglades.
“We have seen that these pythons can remove 90 percent or more of the mammals in the Everglades,” Hunter said. “So, we are very concerned about the populations of these animals in South Florida that could lead to local extinction of these populations.”
“Marsh rabbits are the first to go, rat, cotton tail rabbits, raccoons, possums,…,” said python hunter and Tom Rahill.
The South Florida Water Management District, Python Elimination Program has brought in more than a thousand snakes. The largest recorded was a whopping 18 feet long.
Even deer and crocodiles are found in the stomach of the silent predator.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 99,000 Burmese pythons were imported into the U.S. between 1996 and 2006. In 2012, all of the constrictor snakes were banned from importation in the US and trade of the animals was also illegal.
Up to 100,000 pythons are supposed to crawl through Florida’s wetlands, most of them are descendants of pets illegally released into the wild after too large and dangerous for their owners. A Burmese python can reach up to 23 feet long and weight up to 200 pounds, growing from a 20-inch young in an eight-foot predator in just one year.
Because of their broad dietary preferences, long lifespan of 15 to 25 years, high reproductive output and impressive swimmers, the snakes are able to thrive in South Florida, with the help of the region’s scattered and extensive channels to spread throughout the state.
State and federal wildlife managers have tried all the options available for combating the problem: tracking the snakes with dogs, using traps, the assembly of hoses with radio trackers, public hunting contests, and even with what scientists call a “Judas snakes” to lead them to other pythons.
Last year, the South Florida Water Management District created by the Python Elimination Program, the hiring of 25 licensed contractors to hunt and kill the invasive predators known to be so cryptic, that you could be “standing on the top of one and not even know it,” said Rahill, founder of a non-profit called “Swamp Apes” and takes the war veterans from the python hunting with him to help them cope with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
The wranglers are paid $8 per hour to drive, walk, and probe through the hot and humid Everglades in search of the well-camouflaged constrictors, receive $50 for every snake killed, and an additional $25 for each foot that is longer than four. A pregnant python raking in an extra $100.
“Once you make contact, the game is over…it is an incredibly stimulating, adrenaline-pumping experience,” said Rahill. “This will never be abolished, unfortunately, but the pythons have to be managed.”
Allie Raffa is a multimedia reporter for Fox News based in Tampa.