Thursday, April 29, 2010

Viruses in Captive Boids and Pythonids

A recently published study from Germany examined 100 apparently healthy booid snakes for the presence of paramyxoviruses (PMVs), and tested blood samples for antibodies against PMVs, adenoviruses and reovirus and for inclusion bodies that would indicate the presence of inclusion body disease (IBD). Nine snakes tested positive for PMVs and six snakes tested positive for IBD antibodies. Antibodies against PMV were found in one snake and two snakes had antibodies against an adenovirus.The blood samples were obtained from 14 private and zoo collections in Germany and taken only from snakes that showed no signs of disease. Snake owners answered detailed questionnaires about the snakes origins, diet, and husbandry. The authors suggest that the risk of spreading an infection in a collection is considerably greater that previously thought from snakes that appear healthy. The full article can be found at: http://www.veterinaer-akademie.de/pdf/en/publications/2010_veterinary_record_03_snakes.pdf

Citation: Pees, M. et al. 2010. Prevalence of viral infections in captive collections of boid snakes in Germany. Veterinary Record 166:422-425.

Bill to Ban Sale of Giant Snakes To Be Signed By Florida Governor

The Miami Herald is reporting this morning (4/29/2010) that the Florida State Legislature is getting ready to ban the sale of Burmese Pythons, African Pythons, and Anacondas as well as Nile Monitor Lizards that have become invasive species. Of course this will do little to prevent the spread of the populations of these animals already established in the state. The bill was approved by the Legislature on Wednesday and is headed for the Governor's desk. The full article can be found at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/29/1603455/state-poised-to-ban-the-sale-of.html

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Python Hunting Season Has Ended in Florida

The Florida python hunting season that opened March 8 ended on April 17. No snakes were killed by hunters during the relatively short time period. Additionally, 9 of 10 snakes that were being tracked with implanted radio transmitters in Everglades National Park died and, the tenth was reported in poor condition. All of this follows an unseasonably cold January. Does this mean that 90 to 100% of the invasive pythons died? The answer to this is unknown. Snakes with implanted transmitters may have been more susceptible to the stress produced by the cold because of the surgery; they may have been more active than other snakes and closer to the surface or more exposed to the cold. Other unknown factors may have made them more sensitive to the cold weather. Officials who claimed the 50% of the snakes, snakes and other invasive reptiles died from the cold snap have no real way of supporting that number and it has generated considerable skepticism and sarcasm in the press considering that 90% of the snakes that were being tracked died. Ten snakes is a relatively small sample size, particularly in light of the size of the area occupied by the snakes. With the approach of summer I suspect python sightings are likely to increase and those that are seen are likely to be the ones that are cold resistant because of their physiology or behavior.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Human Fascination With Large Snakes is Ancient

There is evidence that humans have been moving the large snakes around for at least two millennia. Strabo’s encyclopedic work Geography is a description of the ancient Greco-Roman world. In this 2000 year old text the author reports seeing a snake in Egypt that was 9 cubits long (about 13 feet or about 4 m) that had been brought from India. The same appears true for the African Python complex (Python sebae). Bodson (2004) described, what she considers, the first herpetological expedition to capture a large African Python organized under Ptolemy II (290 to 246 BC). The expedition captured a large specimen in the area known as the Island of Meroe, which is not really an island but the area between the White Nile, the Blue Nile and the Atbara River (14-16°N latitude). This area is within the known range of Python sebae. There are no firsthand accounts of the 3rd century BC effort and Bodson's account is based on information in a ms from the 1st century BC, at least 200 years after the event. Therefore it is not surprising that the size and abilities of the snake were exaggerated. Accounts from the turn of the 19th century suggest people in the Philippines were using Reticulated Pythons (Broghammerus reticulatus) to control rodents, keeping them in their houses and places of business. This may have lead Brown and Acala (1970) to concluded that the presence of reticulatus on virtually all Philippine islands were the result of human transport. It is therefore not surprising that 15 foot Burmese Python (P. bivittatus) was found in Riverside, California's Lake Evan over the week end (April 9) and an 11 ft python of an unstated species was found in Cornwell, England on April 11. Of course people keep giant snakes as pets or for commercial breeding projects today. Human fascination with snakes is ancient and undeniable.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Large Male African Python Found in Dade County, Florida

The SunSentinel.com reported on March 20, 2010 that a 14 foot (4.27 m), 140 pound (63.5 kg) male African Rock Python had been captured in West Miami (Dade County) in January. The species (Python sebae) was first discovered living in Florida in September of 2009. The news report suggests this is an unusually large male. In southeast Nigeria Luiselli et al. (2007, pages 89-100 in Henderson and Powell, Biology of Boas and Pythons, Eagle Mountain Publishing) measured 51 female and 39 male African Pythons and found females averaged 4.15 m and males 2.47 m. The largest female observed was about 5 m. Thus, the male from Dade County appears to be exceptionally large compare with the African population studied, suggesting this species may be finding food to be nutritious and plentiful in Florida.

Reticulated Python Kills Boy in Indonesia -Predation

The Associated Press reports that a 13-year-old boy was killed by a python (Broghammerus reticulatus) on 21 March on Sumatra (Indonesia). The local police cheif, Capt. Joshua Tampubolon reported  a 23-foot (7-meter-long) python was believed to be hiding in waterway tunnels built by a textile company for its industrial waste. Villagers from Percut Sei Tuan in Deli Serdang district blocked road access to the tunnels Sunday to protect the public. The victim and three friends were swimming in the Tembung River when the snake attacked. It strangled and nearly swallowed the boy before villagers armed with spears forced it to flee. It is interesting to note that this attack was an attempt at predation on a human, and was not the result of an "accident" as often described when deaths occur from captive snakes.