HAVE ALL THE PYTHONS GONE?
November 6, 2011
Pythons in the United States: Ecology of an Introduced Predator"
might be the title of a great new horror film instead of the well-researched,
professional yet entertaining book that it is. Written by Michael E.
Dorcas and John D. Willson (2011, University of Georgia Press, Athens;
$24.95) "Invasive Pythons" sets the record straight about
the thousands of Burmese pythons introduced from Asia that now thrive
in Florida. These snakes can be longer than two pickup trucks parked
end to end and weigh more than an NFL linebacker. Not a pet snake you'd
want to drape around your neck.
released or escaped animals from the pet snake trade are almost certainly
the origin of these enormous nuisance predators that now slither through
southern Florida. What do pythons eat? In their native lands from India
to China they have been documented to eat mammals as large as jackals,
monkeys, antelope, and even a leopard. Accounts of humans becoming python
prey are rare but unfortunately true. In their new home in the Everglades
National Park and surrounding areas, pythons have found plenty of native
mammals and birds to consume, some in disturbingly high numbers. Alligators
as well as virtually all warm-blooded wildlife are apparently fair game.
A valid concern is that pythons in Florida will eventually consume pets
such as dogs and cats. Records already exist of their eating domestic
chickens, geese, and turkeys.
focus is on Burmese pythons, but the authors also discuss the potential
risk of other species of pythons and boas becoming established in southern
Florida. Included are African rock pythons and green anacondas. Both
reach lengths exceeding 25 feet and have been found in the Everglades.
that will captivate many readers--from youngsters enthralled with snakes
to naturalists of any ilk to professional herpetologists--are the 188
outstanding high-resolution color photographs. To say that some are
dramatic would be an understatement. The picture of the authors and
two colleagues holding a 16-foot female Burmese python captured at night
in Everglades National Park is enough to make anyone realize that studying
these reptiles is an adventure. Other Everglades photos include a large
python coiled around an adult great blue heron that's about to become
lunch and a giant alligator eating a large python. A photo of a female
python coiled around her eggs illustrates a more maternalistic trait:
the mother staying with the clutch until they hatch, thus incubating
them by raising her own body temperature and protecting them from predators.
yet unknown population controls for these invasive predators, which
can hatch more than 40 young from a clutch, Burmese pythons can now
be considered part of the naturalized fauna of Florida. Are they likely
to expand their geographic range into Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas,
and beyond? According to the authors, expanding their range outside
of Florida will take quite awhile. How far north they can go is heavily
debated by scientists and commercial python breeders. In their native
range in Asia, they extend into cool areas in central China and to the
foothills of the Himalayas in India and Nepal. But new population centers
in the United States could arise in another way. Without originating
from the solidly established Florida population, a released female python
that has outgrown its owner's cage might ultimately be the source of
a new population in California, Louisiana, or other temperate regions
in southern portions of the country. On the other hand, large pythons
have been found in recent months as far up peninsular Florida as Lake
Okeechobee, almost a hundred miles north of the heavy concentrations
in the Everglades.
screenplay writers and science fiction authors hold the franchise on
horror tales of Earth being invaded by scary monsters. The gigantic,
stealthy, and potentially man-eating predator described in "Invasive
Pythons" is scarier than any of those imaginary creatures because
it's real. Whether for its scientific facts, fascinating natural history
information, entertainment value, or striking photography the book by
Mike Dorcas and J. D. Willson should appeal to a wide audience.
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