• Carrie Gardner

It's an Alien Invasive Hostile Take Over! (part two)

Updated: Mar 14, 2021


The Aftermath of Rodda et al.

FLORIDA - Shortly after the release of the report, Florida passed legislation that put all large constrictors on a Reptile of Concern list (now called “Conditional Species.”) Owners could keep their python for its natural life but they couldn’t buy another one. They also had to microchip the snakes and get a permit that has/had to be renewed every year for $100.00. Breeders, distributors, and wholesalers also have to keep specific records on inventory - births, deaths, acquisitions, and sales or transfers. These records must be submitted twice a year and readily available to Fish and Wildlife (FWC) officers who come to make inspections. Breeders, dealers, exhibitors, and researchers are eligible for permits that allow them to see the Conditional Species out of state, medical research, and for educational purposes.

The species affected are:

  • Burmese python

  • Indian python (that hasn’t been imported since 1975)

  • North African rock python

  • South African rock python

  • Amethystine python

  • Scrub python

  • Green anaconda

  • Nile monitor

NUMBERS - FWC has also have learned quite a bit from the propaganda machine that released a couple of papers from USGS. They overestimate numbers. Well, I shouldn’t say that. There is no way to know how many are out there, but I highly doubt the number is what they claim. With their inability to catch them in large numbers, I believe their claim of 150,000 snakes is an impossibility. Even with the remoteness of the Everglades, there should be higher catches and they wouldn’t be found just randomly, a lot more. Plus, the pythons are isolated in spots. There is no way that a small area can support 150,000 snakes.

HOW? If you listen to FWC, they always blame the irresponsible reptile owner for the current population in the Everglades. Between 1978-2001, only 12 Burmese pythons were seen with eight being removed. In 2000, they were established as breeding. What happened that would cause a population explosion? At least 900 Burmese python babies and juveniles were blown in from a breeder who kept them in a Quonset Hut on the edge of Everglades National Park. I have never heard of long lines of irresponsible owners waiting to get in the park to dump their snakes, which is what would have to happen to get the equivalent of 900. A majority of snakes are related several times over indicating that the original breeding population has not had a lot of new pythons enter the ranks.

PREDATION - “They have no predators.” Does this even make sense? They are threatened from the time their egg is laid until they reach a certain size. Animals that prey against them are not limited to: fire ants, raccoons, snakes, opossums, birds, alligators, bobcats, Florida panther, man - any animal that is a scavenger, carnivore, omnivore will eat juvenile pythons.

PREY - Another sensationalistic story is that Burmese pythons animals have eaten 90% of the wildlife (and feral cats) in the Everglades, despite the presence of several mammalian predators, disease, or how the animal’s survival that has been harmed by extreme levels of mercury, nitrogen, and sulfur from nearby industries and agriculture. There is so much mercury found in the Everglades, that it is found in high amounts in every plant and animal. Harvesting alligator or python meat is not recommended for human consumption. Burmese pythons can survive comfortably on four or five meals a YEAR. They have a slow metabolism where digestion can take more than a week, while mammals need to eat often. Feral cats are surplus hunters that kill not just for food, but just to kill and invasive animal biologists say that the most destructive invasive animal are feral hogs (as well as a possible threat to humans). Burmese pythons shouldn’t be the only poster invasive animal. Furthermore, their scientific reasoning was based on the numbers of animals sighted and animals killed on roads. From these numbers, they were able to come up with the 90% figure, despite the fact that most of the Everglades are inaccessible except by helicopter.

HYBRIDS The latest is that there was Indian python DNA found in 13 snakes. (Cytonuclear discordance in the Florida Everglades invasive Burmese python (Python bivittatus) population reveals possible hybridization with the Indian python (P. molurus) To be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about how DNA works. So my questions, I believe, are valid based on what little I understand and logic. The researcher said that the Indian python DNA was from a long time ago. I would like to see how they determine the age of that DNA sample. For the following reasons: 1. It has been illegal to export Indian pythons from SE Asia and import into the United States since 1975 when the snake was listed on Appendix I for CITES. This doesn’t rule out Indian pythons brought in on the black market, but, would there be enough Indian pythons for 13 hybrids to be found? 2. There has never been an Indian python reported in the Everglades or anywhere else. 3. Most of the Everglades Burmese pythons are very closely related, indicating that they are most likely descended from the 900 snakes blown into the Everglades (the number could very well have been less with any that were killed by the storm). Hurricane Andrew happened in 1992, 17 years after Indian pythons were banned. FWC and other agencies jumped on these hybrids to absolutely prove that Burmese pythons could start moving north because Indian pythons can stand cooler temperatures (which is why Rodda et al. used Indian pythons for their climate models instead of the Burmese.) 4. In the study, the authors stated that considering sexual maturity, for the amount of Indian python DNA found, it would have to be four to ten generations after the founding. This is based on reports that state the snakes started breeding in the 1980s. There is no supporting information to prove that. As far as I could find, there are really only a limited number of times that Indian pythons and Burmese pythons could be introduced for a pairing. Anytime before 1975 when the Indian python could be imported (Burmese didn’t become popular after 1975) and some snake in that genetic line was released or escaped (unlikely, considering how much a hybrid snake would sell for.). Any wild caught Burmese python that was imported and released, including the number that was blown into the Everglades, could have been a hybrid. The problem I have about that is that though they may overlap in their range in certain areas, they probably don’t have any contact. It is also rare for two animals of different species to produce offspring without human meddling. More hybrids than not are genetic dead ends...unable to reproduce. There are quite a few snakes that can successfully reproduce when hybridized. But I’ve also heard that hybrid snakes - I believe pythons - are likely to suffer effects from such a pairing and be very lethargic. The study indicates that there isn't proof because there are some questions with the precise mechanism responsible for cytonuclear discordance within the Python genus, possible disparity, (No, I don't walk around with these terms in my head. If they did, I'd be really worried.)

THEY WILL KILL YOU! No, they won’t. Have they killed owners in the past? Yes, usually because the owners did something incredibly stupid. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t been bitten by their snakes for doing something stupid. It’s just that it’s not a large python. In the Everglades, they are only going to defend themselves. Of course, they will defend themselves if they’re grabbed and dragged. If you walk past one? Snakes, even the big ones, look at humans as predators. All snakes are only two or three inches tall...we’re four to six feet. Really. There’s no need to worry. No one has ever been attacked unless that person is harassing said snake.

I do believe that most of FWC are good people, and they have put laws in place, Including their amnesty program. There are events all over the state where animals can be turned in, where they are vet-checked and given to pre-approved homes qualified to care for the animal. If you can’t get to an Amnesty Day, they also have a hotline 1-888-IveGot1 (1-888-483-4681) where you can report invasive animals found, dead endangered animals (gopher tortoises, manatees, and any raptor birds, for example) and call to rehome any reptiles that need new homes. But they need to stop using fear-mongering tactics to frighten people or disgust people (like people in the reptile community) and start by educating people about Burmese pythons (which expands to other native snakes). Exaggerations will end up kicking themselves in the tushie when less tourists come here or people stop retiring down here.

On that positive note, this will continue in June.

It's an Alien Invasive Hostile Take Over! (part one) (April 2019) It's an Alien Invasive Hostile Take Over! (part two) (May 2019) It's an Alien Invasive Hostile Take Over! (part three) (June 2019) It's an Alien Invasive Hostile Take Over! (part four) (July 2019)

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