Saturday, January 23, 2010

Humans, Meet Your Super Snake Overlords

The Los Angeles Times prints, and the Florida Sun-Sentinel reports:

Fears of a new "super snake" emerging in the Everglades grew this week during a hunt to track South Florida's invasive python population.

A three-day, state-coordinated hunt that started Tuesday had, by Wednesday, turned up at least five African rock pythons -- including a 14-foot-long female -- in a targeted area in Miami-Dade County.

Those findings add to concerns that the African rock python is a new breeding population in the Everglades and not just the result of a few overgrown pets being released into the wild, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

In addition, state environmental officials worry that the rock python could breed with the Burmese python, which already has an established foothold in the Everglades. That could lead to a new "super snake," said George Horne, the water district's deputy executive director.

In Africa, the rock python eats creatures as large as goats and crocodiles. There have been cases of the snakes killing children.

"They are bigger and meaner than the Burmese python. It's not good news," said Deborah Drum, deputy director of the district's restoration sciences department.

The concern is that a hybrid python could pose even more risk of large constrictor snakes overwhelming the Everglades -- where they thrive without a natural predator.

The state estimates that thousands of Burmese pythons have spread through the Everglades. Some came from people releasing exotic pets they no longer wished to care for; others are thought to have escaped during hurricanes and then bred new generations in the wild.

Unusually cold temperatures in South Florida recently have flushed more of the snakes out of the wild and onto flood control levees.

Three of the African rock pythons found in the snake hunt this week were captured, and two got away. One had a circumference of 31 inches. Another was bearing eggs.

The African rock python typically has a "nastier disposition" than the Burmese python, said LeRoy Rodgers, a water district scientist.

"These are animals that are hot predators, and now there are two species to worry about," he said.

So how do you catch a Rock Python, which nests in dirt dens when it gets really hot or cold, or when they seek to lay eggs? We have a pictorial instruction guide right here, and it's worth a look, we promise.


Mongoose said...

Why are they after catching them? Wouldn't it make more sense to kill them as fast as possible?

Retrieverman said...

I'd be more worried about African rock pythons than Burmese pythons for another reason.

When I was first starting the blog, I did a report on the potential range that the Burmese python could have from the US Geological Survey. You could get them; I won't.

However, this study suggests that the Burmese python will have a more limited range, especially if Climate Change models are introduced:

Now, here's the thing about African rock pythons. They have pretty extensive range in Africa. They were once found as far south as Namibia and South Africa (originally as far south as KwaZulu-Natal, which is in the temperate parts of South Africa.)

And: " The African rock python inhabits a wide range of habitats, including savanna woodland and grassland, forest, savanna, semi-desert, rocky areas and the edges of swamps, lakes and rivers, being particularly associated with areas of permanent water It also readily adapts to disturbed habitats and so is often found around human habitation."

That means that the African Rock python might be better at colonizing the US than the Burmese python.

And that's a scary prospect.

PBurns said...

A limiting factor may not just be frost -- it may also be the absence of ground holes for them to den in. Southern Africa has a lot of rock holes, Warthog dens, termite mounds, and other places for a Rock Python to go to ground in. Florida, however, does not have groundhogs, which are the chief den-make in the East. And though a Rock Python could den in a hollow log, there are coyote, fox and dogs to contend with, to say nothing of alligators, fire ants and lot and lots of roads. I think movement north will be very slow, and not just because snakes do not have legs -- but we shall see. I do not think Pythons are going to be wiped out in Florida -- contained may be all we can hope for.


Retrieverman said...

There are two subspecies of Asian rock python. The one we know best is the Burmese. It requires a lot more humidity and water than the other subspecies, the Indian. That's why I've become skeptical that they could ever take over the Southwest.

But African rock pythons could do well in that environment.

If the African species got started in Arizona or Southern California, they would do fine. It can handle more arid climates.

Jess Ruffner-Booth said...

The Burmese is a subspecies of the Indian, Python molurus. Neither are considered subspecies of the African Rock, Python sebae. They are related but distantly.

It has been about ten years since I kept reptiles and I had to go looking to see if anyone was producing Rock/Burm hybrids. Rocks were not popular snakes in the pet trade back then and Indians were quite rare. And somebody is:

They call them 'cateaters.' Interestingly, the hybrids are smaller by a good bit than both parent snakes. So much for hybrid 'supersnakes.'

Doug said...

There is so much misinformation and sensationalism in these reports, and very little is truly known about the snakes real numbers.

Young snakes have legions of natural predators - everything from gators, to coons, hawks, even big bass can eat a young snake. Full grown snakes can be formidable - but how often do you ever see a truly huge snake in the wild?

Who knows what will happen, I bet that the recent cold temps will take a toll on all snake numbers.