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A Plague of Reptiles-The Burmese Python

June 7, 2010

What was touted as a reptilian plague of Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) mere months ago has become the Y2K of snake invasions. Throughout the 90s and 2Ks, individual Pythons of various species were found throughout southern Florida. When the first Burmese Python nest was discovered in 2006, an initial population estimate of 15,000 was suggested. In 2007 the estimate jumped to 30,000. In 2008 it alarmingly reached 90,000 and in 2009 the estimate set an all-time high of 150,000 gargantuan constrictors living and breeding in south Florida. The US Geologic Survey released a map of potential python habitat considering the rate of global warming and it seemed everyone from Tennessee south would have to be prepared to for an invasion of over 4 million snakes by 2050. The hysteria has spread quicker than the supposed snake population and most of the reports are full of nonsense.

Giant snakes don’t belong in any ecosystem in the United States. That goes for Boa Constrictors, Reticulated, African, Indian and Burmese Pythons. These slithering leviathans, Reticulated Pythons specifically, can reach lengths of over 25 feet and weigh over 400 lbs. They feed on birds, mammals and occasionally reptiles. They’re disruptive to the ecosystem and potentially harmful to humans if they come in contact with them. Most of them were set loose by pet owners that no longer could care for them.

The Burmese Pythons are the most abundant of the exotic snake species found in south Florida. The National Park Service has been removing them from the Everglades National Park since 2000 and the numbers have increased each year. In the first few weeks of 2010, Over 140 individuals were removed from the park. In the last few weeks only fifteen were captured and destroyed.

Burmese Pythons are native to Southeast Asia and while the subtropics of south Florida can be a suitable environment for these colossal constrictors, we do in fact have bouts of winter. The winter of 2010 was one of the coldest on record with a span of seven days where the temperature never rose above 40 degrees. That doesn’t suit the snakes well. Most of the radio-tagged pythons died, which prompted several media reports to suggest that over 50% of the population was killed by the cold. I imagine 75,000 dead pythons rotting in the wilderness, but I know all estimates by myself or the media are wild guesses.

The conclusion of the first public python hunt ended without a single snake captured, probably due to fewer snakes and a vast wilderness area for them to slither off to. No doubt the invaders are still out there and the fittest have survived. The pythons will continue to be a problem. I only wish the media didn’t make it worse.

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