Forget the ‘Gators; Python Population

by Rodrigo Marina The American Crocodiles and the American Alligators had been the dominant predators in the Everglades National park at the southern tip of Florida since it was established.  However, in 1975, the American Crocodile species was declared endangered due to the popularity of its hide and other products.  Numbers were dramatically low during that time, with less than 300 alligators accounted for.  In 1979, a new species started to make its way into The Everglades. While many species of reptiles are native to Florida, difficulty arises with the introduction of non-native species, like the Asian Burmese Python.  The Burmese Python made its first appearance in 1979, and since then, it has been reproducing at an unbelievable rate. The population explosion is encouraged by the lack of natural predators for the Burmese Python in Florida.  The American Alligator has moved up from “endangered” status to “threatened,” and while this is an extremely positive step, there is definitely a new problem slithering in Florida.   The Burmese Python has found a home away from home in the Everglades.  “Some government biologists have said there could be as many as 140,000 pythons in the Everglades and surrounding areas” (Moreli).  So what makes Florida such an ideal place for these beasts?  David Fleshler is an environmental reporter for the South Beach Sun Sentinel who specializes in the Everglades.  He explains that “Florida’s hot and wet climate has made the state a congenial home for species from Africa, Asia and South America.”  Fleshler also suggests that the overpopulation of the Burmese Pythons has risen due to pythons being let “loose by their owners after they become too big or too high maintenance.”   According to Anthony Colarossi, staff writer for the Orlando Sentinal, once the snakes grow to be “16 or 18 feet and 200 pounds, [they] could start hunting panthers and bobcats. ‘Anything that moves is fair game to those guys.’”  The pythons have reportedly already started attacking and eating small mammals, birds, and even domestic pets!  Burmese pythons gained further notoriety with cases of attacks on humans, like the asphyxiation of a 2-year-old in 2009.   Another issue concerns those who live far from Florida’s Everglades: can the pythons make their way into other parts of the country?  According to the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System, there have been reported sightings in northern Florida, completely outside of the Everglades.  The website also reports that Burmese Pythons have been spotted in Georgia, suggesting that they are already migrating to nearby states.  These cold-blooded reptiles depend warm climates for their survival and success as a species, so the northern states probably won’t find any pythons in their lakes and swamps.  However, the warmer weather in Louisiana and Texas is conducive to the migration of the Asian-native pythons.
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