IDENTIFICATION CAN BRING SURPRISES
attitudes about wildlife have changed considerably in the last few years,
and people have more interest than ever in identifying wildlife they
encounter. With the increased availability of full-color nature books
and websites, people can often find answers for themselves. The use
of cell phone photography is also helpful after the fact in determining
just what it was one saw.
the following are two questions I received this month that reveal a
developing problem related to identifying what we've seen. Sometimes
the animals we encounter these days are not native species.
I am looking at your herpetology website (www.srelherp.uga.edu)
and am unable to identify a snake I spotted at my home in Columbus,
NC. I have attached a photograph. Can you help?
That snake is not on SREL's website because it is a ball python, which
is not native to this country, or even to the Western Hemisphere. The
species is from central Africa, but thousands of pet ones live in this
country. Most folks would be relieved to know that ball pythons seldom
reach 6 feet in length. Some pet owner is probably missing this one.
was benign enough. Some people might find the next one a little more
My wife was driving on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Atlanta when
she passed a water collection pond and spotted what she thought was
a large tree limb protruding from under a hedge. As she got closer,
the "limb" jerked back toward the hedge and she could see
its entire length - it was a huge snake. Her estimate of its length
was 10 to 12 feet! Could it have been an escaped boa constrictor? To
whom should we report this sighting?
That's pretty long for a boa constrictor, though possible, but it is
certainly much bigger than any native snake. One guess would be a python,
the default being a Burmese python, that is an escaped pet or has been
intentionally released. Pythons are now firmly established residents
in the Everglades and other parts of southern Florida, but individuals
can turn up anywhere in the country where someone has one as a pet.
I have received python reports from most of the southern states and
as far north as Michigan, Illinois and Toronto.
are common, as anyone who has ever kept pet snakes knows. But many of
the isolated encounters of pythons are a result of intentional releases.
People aren't necessarily being malicious when they release exotic snakes
that have become too large to care for. Nonetheless, the act is environmentally
irresponsible and potentially cruel. Many tropical snakes that have
been kept as pets cannot even capture their own food in the wild and
are likely to die from starvation. Some may find refuge in sewer drains
or beneath buildings where they are less likely to be seen and can find
rodents to eat. Most will die during their first winter anywhere outside
of southern Florida.
find an exotic snake, you can report the sighting to your state wildlife
department, but most of these agencies are overwhelmed by the number
of requests for wildlife assistance and have limited personnel to deal
with them. Meanwhile, local nature centers are sometimes able to accommodate
large exotic snakes. However, most eventually will have an oversupply
from such opportunities. Reporting a sighting of a boa or python to
a regional herpetology organization can sometimes be productive. Members
in the area might know of someone who has an escaped pet they are looking
from free-ranging pythons has yet to be fully realized. A 12-foot python
loose in a residential area would have no reservations about catching,
constricting and then eating a cat or small dog that was nosing around.
If you spot a big python in your neighborhood, you should certainly
report its presence to your neighbors, if for no other reason than to
give folks something to talk about.
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