Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Invasion Of The Giant Killer Pythons

Image from the excellent KingSnake.com site.

The swamps of the Everglades, in south Florida, have been invaded by giant killer pythons. They grow up to six metres in length, can weigh as much as 100kg and can live for two decades. The Burmese pythons are believed to have come to the Everglades thanks to idiotic pet owners who dumped the snakes when, presumably, they grew too big for the largest of fish tanks, or homes.

It's being called an ecological disaster. We call it a horror movie come to life :

The pythons have established breeding pairs in the swamps and are racing to the top of the food chain, even ousting alligators that were the Everglades' top predator. Two years ago a photographer snapped a picture that appeared to show a python so big it had eaten an alligator whole.

'It is a very serious issue, especially as we have found breeding pairs and clutches of eggs. That means they have adapted to living here and they are having a big impact,' said Linda Friar, an official at Everglades National Park. The snakes are a serious threat to indigenous wildlife due to their big appetites. The stomach contents of every python caught by rangers usually reveals a feast of rare birds and small mammals. Sometimes it also shows that the snakes have been snacking on household pets.

The park has embarked on a major effort to curb the snakes' numbers, but total eradication would be difficult. 'We think we can slow down their rate of increase,' said Friar. At the moment there are an estimated 350 pythons in the park, but many more in the swamps outside. Rangers estimate that, for every python they spot, 10 lie hidden in the marshes.

Park rangers, in their efforts to catch the elusive snakes, have a specially trained sniffer dog - nicknamed 'Python Pete'. They have also used so-called 'Judas animals' by tagging female pythons with electronic signalling devices. The females then lead rangers to populations of male pythons, which the rangers can kill.

But, according to this story, the giant pythons are not the biggest threat to the rich ecological balance of the Everglades :

...plants from suburban gardens are busy supplanting native species. An estimated two million acres of the swamp are now covered by invading plants.

'They don't create quite the same headlines as pythons, but plants are the invaders who actually make up the biggest threat,' said Friar.

This infamous photograph reportedly shows what happens when a four metre long Burmese python tried to eat an alligator, whole. The tail of the alligator can be seen jutting out from a huge tear in the python's mid-body :

Darryl Mason is the author of the free, online novel ED Day : Dead Sydney. You can read it here

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