Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Invasive Species: Burmese Python

A Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus)
Burmese pythons are good swimmers
Pythons are popular pets among reptile enthusiasts and can grow to be quite large. As is common with pets, captive individuals can vary greatly in color and come in a number of different "morphs." Due to their size, they have the potential to be quite dangerous and owners of these snakes have been attacked in the past. Since these pythons are capable of killing and eating such things as full grown pigs and the small crocodilians known as caimen, they definitely present a risk to people. This is especially true of children due to their small size. They are excellent swimmers and climbers, which allows them to prey on just about anything.

Burmese pythons are native to much of Asia including such countries as Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, and parts of China and India. It's capable of living an a variety of habitats, including in areas that are colder than you might expect. They have become invasive in parts of Florida and Puerto Rico. Though their invasive range is currently not that far-reaching, they have the potential to spread across the entirety of the southern United States from California to Georgia, north to Virginia and Washington. Introduction has been exclusively through the pet trade, with individuals either escaping or being released by owners who no longer want them, often because they have grown too large to handle.

An alligator fighting with a python
The threats this species presents have the potential to affect a vast amount of native species. Some species compete with the python for food, while others will be eaten. There is also a risk of disease transmission. In Puerto Rico, there is concern about their native constrictors, which are smaller in size and likely not able to compete for resources. They are few species capable of preying on these pythons, however, they are at least sometimes eaten by native alligators.

Attempts to manage the python invasion appear to be mainly focused on education of the public. Permits are required for ownership in Florida, and ownership is heavily regulated in general. Importation is quite difficult. There are also steep fines for releasing a Bermese python throughout the United States, which is in part an attempt to prevent the species from becoming established anywhere else. There is also suggestion that removing canals will help prevent spread of these animals within the Everglades. There is also much being done to remove the snakes that already live in Florida. Snakes are lured, trapped, tracked, and caught in all sorts of ways. There's even a hotline for locals to call in sightings. Overall, people who manage the areas where these invasive snakes occur basically have a kill every python they can capture policy. As with any invasive, they shouldn't be there, so this is a good sort of policy to have.

Source is the Global Invasive Species Database. Images are from Wikimedia Commons and are under Creative Commons licenses or are copyright free: one, two, three.

No comments:

Post a Comment