When the news broke around 2000 that giant Burmese pythons were invading the Florida Everglades, it sounded like a practical joke. However, the real impact of the invasion has now been evaluated by scientists, and the reports are anything but comical.
According to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marsh rabbits and foxes are no longer found in areas where the pythons have set up camp. Raccoons are down 99.3%, opposums are down 98.9%, and white-tailed deer are down 94.1%.
The disturbing info doesnâ€™t stop there, either. Gordon Rodda, an invasive species specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey, published research in 2008 noting that these pythons have the potential to expand across the whole southern portion of the United States. Thatâ€™s unsettling.
Burmese pythons can grow up to 16 feet long and weigh as much as 150 pounds. They are native to Southeast Asia, but release of pet pythons, both deliberate and accidental, have led to the snakes making themselves at home. Go figure, humans are event at fault for THIS.
The decrease in mammals is highest where pythons have been around the longest, and there are considerably larger amounts of mammal sightings where pythons have recently begun to invade.
While it canâ€™t be said conclusively that the decline is due to python activity, the evidence is certainly there. â€œLast October, we found a 15-foot snake with an 80-pound doe inside it,â€ said Michael Dorcas, lead author on the paper and professor of biology at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. He also notes that pythons are not a danger to humans so there isnâ€™t a need to worry in that sense, as the only attacks on humans were with snakes kept as in-home pets. However, they will eat your pets, so keep an eye on your animals if youâ€™re local.
If youâ€™re wondering what can be done, thereâ€™s not a whole lot as yet, since these snakes are incredibly secretive and hard to find. The vast wilderness in southern Florida makes suppression and extermination incredibly difficult, so it could be some time before animal control figures out how to gain control of the reckless snakes.
The everglades is one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world, so hopefully something can be done before the situation spirals too far out of control and entire species are sacrificed.
So who wants to go on vacation in Florida?
Public domain image by Lori Oberhofer, National Park Service: An American alligator and a Burmese python locked in a struggle to prevail in Everglades National Park.
Image CC licensed by Florida Fish and Wildlife: SeaWorld Pet Amnesty, Florida