Dr. Amy Amendt-Raduege
Python Molurus Bivatlus
One misty morning in 2003, deep under the cover of the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, a group of tourists set out for a day of exploration in the Everglades. They hoped to see some of the diverse and unique species that the Everglades are famous for, and maybe snap a few cool pictures to show their friends. They could never have anticipated what they would actually discover. A short way into their trek, the party was drawn to a noisy struggle nearby. They followed their ears to a duel between an alligator and a huge Burmese Python. The alligator clamped his jaws around the snake. The snake wrapped its body around the alligator. The tourists wasted no time in whipping out their camera phones or video cameras, and within days the video was viral. Millions were enthralled by the odd match-up, but to scientists, it was a sign of what could be a very serious problem. The fight between an American alligator and a Burmese Python is unusual, and pretty intriguing, because the Burmese Python is not native to Florida. In fact, people barely noticed they were there until the early 1990s. The accidental introduction of an invasive species to an ecosystem can be absolutely devastating. They can wipe out other species, destroy habitats, and throw the whole system out of whack. We’ve seen it before. The introduction of the Brown treesnake to Guam, for example, caused major ecological and socioeconomic problems since its introduction to Guam shortly after World War II. The tree snakes clearly thrived in the environment of Guam over that of Australia; Specimens from Guam were significantly larger,
and reproduced year round, as compared to those found living in Australia, which reproduce seasonally. As the snakes thrived in a new home, the island could not quite handle them as their native lands could. The brown treesnake caused a severe decline in native forest bird species, the loss of two lizard species, and declines in the Marianna fruit bat. It is now recognized as a public health threat, as well as a substantial drain on Guam’s economy. What has happened to Guam at the hand of a foreign, invasive species which should never have been introduced could easily happen to Florida too. If we allow the Burmese Python to take over and deplete the diverse everglades, there is no telling what could be the long term effect. Like the Brown Treesnake to Guam, the Burmese Python survives better in the Everglades than its own natural environment. In Southeast Asia, the pythons may be prey to jackals, monitor lizards, parasites, and diseases. “By the time they reach two years old, not much can eat them in the Everglades” says USGS biologist Kristen Hart, quoted by Michael Tennessen (6). These animals are large: up to 20 feet long, and 200 pounds heavy. They are sneaky: they’re often underground, in trees, underwater, or just blending into their surroundings with their brown and green-ish markings. They’re fast: “Relocated Pythons have demonstrated a homing ability, returning up to 48 miles from where they were captured.” (Tennessen, 5) Most native species of the Everglades don’t stand a chance against these monsters. Some experts estimate that there are tens of thousands of Burmese Pythons living free in Florida today. Some eighteen hundred specimens have been removed and recorded in and around the Everglades since 2005. Their numbers have risen dramatically. Two Burmese
Pythons were captured in the Everglades in 2000. In 2008, the number captured hit 343 (Tennesen, 3). Long ago, water from the Kissimmee River was free to flow to Lake Okeechobee and southward, over the lowlands of Biscayne Bay, the Ten Thousand Islands, and Florida Bay. It was a shallow layer of water moving slowly across nearly 11,000 square miles. It created the swamps, sloughs, ponds, marshes and forests which now make up the...