Snakes On A Plane: Everglade Invasion

In addition to the Burmese python, eight more invasive snake species threaten Florida ecosystems, wildlife, and pets.
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In addition to the Burmese python, eight more invasive snake species threaten Florida ecosystems, wildlife, and pets.

Jennifer Lopez once fought off a giant anaconda, and Samuel Jackson took on a whole jetload of serpents, but it’ll take more than a couple of snake-battling stars to get South Florida out of its "Snakes on a Plane" phase. We’ve previously reported on the Burmese python invasion of Everglades National Park, but it gets worse: According to a 300-page USGS study released yesterday, there are nine (yes nine) species of non-native, invasive snakes threatening Florida’s local wildlife (and the occasional pet).

So why are there now nine more threatening snakes? The authors of the report blame the pet trade, and pet owners who thought owning a massive, life-squelching constrictor would be a good idea. It isn’t, but dumping their slithery friends in the Everglades is an even worse one—thank you, irresponsible pet owners!

The report states that out of the nine species, the five that pose the highest risk to local and endangered wildlife include Burmese pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boa constrictors, and yellow anacondas. Medium-risk species include reticulated pythons, Deschauensee’s anacondas, green anacondas, and Beni anacondas. Scientists determined species risk by analyzing the relationship between the amount of potential U.S. mainland habitat, ecological threat, and how common the snakes are in the marketplace.

In time, Floridians might not be the only ones with big-snake nightmares. Part of the study was aimed at finding out just how far these snakes could travel. They found that should these cold-blooded critters decide to migrate, they could find homes in the Southern U.S., Texas, and California.

"This report clearly reveals that these giant snakes threaten to destabilize some of our most precious ecosystems and parks, primarily through predation on vulnerable native species,” said Dr. Robert Reed, a coauthor of the report and a USGS invasive species scientist and herpetologist.

Dr. Gordon Rodda, a USGS scientist at the Fort Collins Science Center and the other coauthor of the report concurs, saying:

"Compounding their risk to native species and ecosystems is that these snakes mature early, produce large numbers of offspring, travel long distances, and have broad diets that allow them to eat most native birds and mammals.

Not that they stop there: In addition to birds and mammals, captured snakes’ innards have revealed an appetite for everything from small rodents to a bobcat to a large alligator. Not so hard to imagine when three of the species can reach a length of over 20 feet and weigh upwards of 200 pounds. (Imagine stumbling over one of those babies on your way to get the paper in the morning...)

No official plan has yet been implemented to manage the snake crisis, but the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Parks Service hope to use the information in the report to spark government action. In the mean time, some organized hunting has taken place, and congressmen like Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Kendrick Meek, both of Florida, have proposed adding pythons to the federal injurious species list, which would prevent the species’ importation and sale across state lines.

Word to the wise if you live in S. Florida: Keep your pets close and your small children closer!

--Jordan Olmsted

USGS Study

Report Documents the Risks of Giant Invasive Snakes In The U.S. (USGS Newsroom)

Huge Snakes Pose 'High Risk' To U.S. Ecosystems (New York Times: Dot Earth Blog)

The Humane Society Of The United States Urges End Of Python Trade (HSUS)

Photo Credit: wildexplorer