Showing posts with label Florida pythons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florida pythons. Show all posts

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Another Book Review on Invasive Pythons

The following is a book review from Whit Gibbons on the Dorcas and Wilson volume. The review was published in the Aiken Standard.

"Invasive 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.

Nonetheless, 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.

The book's 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.

A feature 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.

Barring 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.

Hollywood 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.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Invasive Pythons, The Book

Humans have been moving exotic animals around for a very long time, giant snakes are not an acception. Onesicritus, a lieutenant in Alexander the Greats campaign in India (352–327 BC), relayed stories of the Indian king Abisarus keeping pet snakes that were 120 and 210 feet long. While others with Alexander the Great’s army (Nearchus and Arisobulus) reported seeing Indian snakes that were a more believable 24 and 13.5 feet long (see the Giant Constricting Snakes web site). Pythons have also been imported into the USA for at least the last century for carnivals, zoos, and of course the pet trade. As more people and institutions kept giant snakes escapes and releases were invetiable. Virtually any animal kept as a pet, capable of surviveing in its new geography is likely to become established as a feral population. Thus, it should not be a surprise that giant snakes have become established in Florida, and become the cane toads of the snake world. Google "snakes" virtually any day of any week and there will likely be an escaped python story reported from some place in the developed world.

Michael E. Dorcas and John D. Willson have produced a book that will be of interest to all of those interested in snakes, particularly giant snakes or invasive species, Invasive Pythons in the United States, Ecology of an Introduced Predator.The book is well written and documented, the photographs are excellent, and the overall approach to the problem of invasive pythons are sound.There is an excellent discussion of the climate matching studies that have received considerable criticism as well as the risk humans face from the giant snakes - it is really quite minimal.

A new climate study released this week confirms global warming/climate is real, despite issues raised by climate change skeptics. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study foud reliable evidence of a rise in the average world land temperature of approximately 1°C since the mid-1950s. Will invasive pythons adapt and spread to other areas of the USA over the next century? This seems highly probable, but don't expect them to be in New York, Chicago, or Los Angles soon.

Michael E. Dorcas and John D. Willson 2011. Invasive Pythons in the United States, Ecology of an Introduced Predator. A Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book, The University of Georgia Press. 176 pp. 188 color photos, 8 maps, 1 table, 7 figures.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cold Weather & Pythons

Predictions that freezing weather will remove invasive pythons from  the Florida Everglades seem to have been wrong given the following story. Python bivittatus is an exceptionally resilient animal that lives in a wide range of habitats, including the foothills of the Himalayas.

Freezes fail to kill off pythons in Everglades
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
5:25 p.m. EDT, March 26, 2011

Record freezes and a fearsome drought have failed to kill off the Burmese pythons that have colonized the Everglades.

Six of the non-native, constricting snakes were found last week in sections of the Everglades in which they had not turned up before, including an area north of Alligator Alley, according to the South Florida Water Management District. This further dashed hopes by scientists that the past winter's cold weather could kill off the snakes, which are native to the warmer climate of southern Asia.

The snakes, which arrived in the Everglades either through intentional or accidental releases by exotic pet owners and breeders, consume native wildlife, including deer, wading birds and small alligators.

"Almost nothing stops them," said Dan Thayer, the water management district's director of vegetation and land management in a statement. "It tells us they're tough and rugged. The survival of an invasive species often depends on its ability to endure extremes. The Burmese python is overcoming a wide range of conditions in Florida, including extreme colds and a water shortage."