Showing posts with label Python bivittatus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Python bivittatus. Show all posts

Monday, January 30, 2012

Invasive Pythons Impact Native Wildlife: Evidence from Road Kill

The ecological damage done by the invasive brown tree snake on Guam has mad biologists, conservationists and ecologists paranoid about invasive snakes. In the United States invasive species management is estimated to exceed $120 billion annually. Invasive species, including invasive snakes alter habitat structure, competition between species, reduce native predator populations, alter the trophic structure of ecosystems, and they deplete or extirpate native prey populations. Now, Michael Dorcas and colleagues have documented the impact of the Burmese python, Python bivittatus, on the native wildlife of the Florida Everglades in a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Between 1993 and 1999, prior to invasive snakes in south Florida, raccoons, opossums and rabbits were the most frequent road kill. But from 2003 to 2011, road kill surveys found a 99.3%fewer raccoons, 98.9% fewer opossums, and no rabbits or foxes; the surveys also found 94.1% fewer white-tailed deer and 87.5% fewer bobcats. During the 2003 to 2011 time frame annual removals of Burmese pythons rose from less than 50 per year to 300-400 per year. Raccoons, opossums, bobcats, deer and rabbits are all species documented in the diet of the invasive pythons in Everglades National Park. The native mammals are naive to the danger posed by the pythons, making them susceptible to python predation.

While raccoons, rabbits, and opossums are relatively common, concern for the predation pressure placed on endangered birds and mammals in south Florida has been expressed by conservationists and biologists. The entire study can be found on- line.

Dorca, ME, Wilson, JE, Reed, RN, Snow, RW, Rochford, MR, Miller, MA, Meshaka, WE, Andreadis, PT, Mazzotti, FJ, Romagosa, CM, Hart, KM. 2010. Severe mammal declines coincide with proliferation of invasive Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park. PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.1115226109

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Invasive Giant Constricting Snakes, News and Comments on Regulations.

Python sebae. JCM
The following is a combined press release from USFW and an opinion piece that was in the Miami Herald.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized a rule that would ban the importation and interstate transportation of four nonnative constrictor snakes that threaten the Everglades and other sensitive ecosystems across the United States, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today. 
The final rule – which incorporates public comments, economic analysis, and environmental assessment – lists the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda, and the northern and southern African pythons as injurious wildlife under the Lacey Act in order to restrict their spread in the wild in the United States. It is expected to publish in the Federal Register in the coming days. 
“Thanks to the work of our scientists, Senator Bill Nelson, and others, there is a large and growing understanding of the real and immediate threat that the Burmese python and other invasive snakes pose to the Everglades and other ecosystems in the United States,” Salazar said. “The Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Florida Everglades, and we must do all we can to battle its spread and to prevent further human contributions of invasive snakes that cause economic and environmental damage.” 
The four species were assessed by the U.S. Geological Survey as having a high risk of establishing populations and spreading to other geographic areas in that agency’s 2009 report, Giant Constrictors: Biological and Management Profiles and an Establishment Risk Assessment for Large Species of Pythons, Anacondas, and the Boa Constrictor. 
Sixty days after publication of the final rule in the Federal Register, interstate transport and importation of live individuals, gametes, viable eggs, or hybrids of the Burmese python, northern and southern African pythons and yellow anaconda into the United States will be prohibited. None of these species is native to the United States. 
“Burmese pythons have already caused substantial harm in Florida,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “By taking this action today, we will help prevent further harm from these large constrictor snakes to native wildlife, especially in habitats that can support constrictor snake populations across the southern United States and in U.S. territories.” 
Ashe said the Service will continue to consider listing as injurious the five other species of nonnative snakes that the agency also proposed in 2010 – the reticulated python, boa constrictor, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda and Beni anaconda. Once that process is completed, the Service will publish final determinations on those species. 
Most people who own any of these four species will not be affected. Those who own any of these four species of snakes will be allowed to keep them if allowed by state law. However, they cannot take, send, or sell them across state lines. Those who wish to export these species may do so from a designated port within their state after acquiring appropriate permits from the Service.
The Burmese python has established breeding populations in South Florida, including the Everglades, that have caused significant damage to wildlife and that continue to pose a great risk to many native species, including threatened and endangered species. Burmese pythons on North Key Largo have killed and eaten highly endangered Key Largo wood rats, and other pythons preyed on endangered wood storks.
In the Everglades alone, state and federal agencies have spent millions of dollars addressing threats posed by pythons – an amount far less than is needed to combat their spread.  If these species spread to other areas, state and federal agencies in these areas could be forced to spend more money for control and containment purposes.
Interior and its partners, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, South Florida Water Management District, and others are committed to controlling the spread of Burmese pythons and other large nonnative constrictors. For example, FWC recently implemented the use of a “snake sniffing” dog to help in its efforts to find and eradicate large constrictor snakes. This dog was present at the Secretary’s announcement today, along with a 13-foot-long Burmese python. 
Under the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act, the Department of the Interior is authorized to regulate the importation and interstate transport of wildlife species determined to be injurious to humans, the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States.
For more information on injurious wildlife and efforts to list the four species of snakes as injurious under the Lacey Act, please visit:

Today's Miami Herald is carrying the following commentary by Carl Hiaasen.
Those big snakes are here to stay

Now that federal regulators have outlawed the importation of humongous, gator-eating pythons, all Floridians can breathe a grateful sigh of relief. Finally we are saved from this insidious reptilian plague!
Sorry, but no. We might as well try to ban fleas.
As anybody who knows anything about the Everglades will tell you, the giant Burmese python is here to stay. If last year’s hard freeze didn’t kill off the tropical snakes, nothing short of a nuclear disaster will do it.
The import ban on the Burmese and three other species of constrictors — which was announced last week — is being hailed by the Obama administration as a victory for Florida’s native environment. In reality, it’s just a classic lesson of how Washington mulls and stalls until things are out of hand. 
That there was an actual debate about the invasive snake crisis is incredible to the point of satire. Some reptile dealers and breeders, joined by a few clueless Republican lawmakers (none of whom had experienced a 15-foot python in their swimming pool), claimed that a ban on imports and interstate sales would be “job killing.” 
As one who once collected and bred snakes, I cannot overstate how laughably bogus that position was. The realm of commercial reptile dealing, which has always had a sketchy element, is full of clever folks who always find ways to market different exotic species when one becomes unavailable. Not one real job would have been lost. 
Still, the “herp” industry — wholesale and retail herpetology enthusiasts — hired lobbyists to fight the proposed ban, and the big-snake argument dragged on for six ridiculous years. During that period, untold thousands of baby pythons were hatched in the wilds of South Florida and dutifully commenced to devour the local fauna. 
By the time the ban was approved, the government’s original list of “injurious” snake species had been politically pared to four — the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda and two species of African pythons. 
Spared from the blacklist was the common boa constrictor, one of the most popular species among pet owners, and one of the most likely to be turned free when it becomes a little too interested in the family poodle. Boas don’t grow as hefty as pythons, but they are equally fond of our sunny climate and tasty bird population. 
The fact is, there are already so many of these snakes being captive-bred in this country that a ban on imports is essentially meaningless. Most serious reptile dealers buy from U.S. breeders who specialize in extravagantly hued strains, the product of years of genetic tinkering. 
It’s true that certain exotic species won’t mate in captivity, and must be caught in the wild and then shipped here. However, that’s not the case with the four snakes named in the new federal ban. 
Pythons and yellow anacondas reproduce exuberantly, with no shyness, in robust, rat-like numbers. The time is long past when their importation is necessary to the trade. 
The significant part of the federal ban, which takes effect in March, is the illegalizing of interstate sales of Burmese pythons, their eggs and hybrids. That will sure impact the sales of some reptile dealers, but there’s nothing to prevent a customer from purchasing as many snakes as they want from an in-state breeder. 
And it doesn’t matter if you’re a reptile fancier in South Florida or North Dakota. If you’ve got a nice warm room in your house and a lovestruck pair of pythons, you will have bushels of fertile python eggs. 
The snakes that now roam the Everglades are most likely descended from those set loose when Hurricane Andrew flattened rural reptile farms in the summer of 1992. The jumbo specimens might well be original refugees from that storm, their love lives spiced by chance encounters with ex-pet pythons whose owners had lost (or purposely ditched) them. 
So ubiquitous is the python presence that the notoriously slug-like Florida Wildlife Commission last year took steps that practically bans private ownership of the Burmese and seven other species, for new collectors. Herp lovers who already owned the snakes could keep them if they bought a permit and agreed to implant microchips before July 2010. 
When it comes to environmental protections, rarely does the state of Florida take a leading role over the feds. The delay speaks to the embarrassing gridlock in the nation’s capital, where even a pernicious snake infestation generates pious, ideological fuming. 
Sen. Bill Nelson and others worked long and hard to get the Department of Interior to do something, and a ban is a probably a good thing to have on the books as a precedent before the next invasive species settles in. 
But as a way of containing the Burmese python, it’s way too little, way too late. They’re here, they’re hungry, they’re happy — and they’re getting it on. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Death From Python Case Set for Jury Selection

A story by Stephen Hudak, at the Orlando Sentinel (Follow the link to find the complete story) is reporting that the court case against Charles "Jason" Darnell, 34, and Jaren Hare, 21 is ready to start jury selection on Monday July 11. The couple is accused of failing to keep the 8-foot-6-inch albino Burmese python from slithering out of a terrarium in July 2009 and into bed with the toddler, Shaianna Hare. The python constricted the 2-year-old in her crib. Darnell and Hare will stand trial for manslaughter and child neglect. The couple will be tried together and could receive a sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Animal rights groups and animal-law experts across the U.S. will be monitoring the criminal case, thought to be the first instance of a nonvenomous constrictor killing a child in Florida, where the thriving but invasive "reptile of concern" spurred state-sponsored python hunts in the Everglades in 2009.

According to investigative documents reviewed by the Sentinel, the yellowish constrictor, bought at a flea market for $200, hadn't eaten in a month and was kept in a glass terrarium with a quilt for a lid. The snake weighed in at a sickly 13.5 pounds after the attack.

Since 1980, the Humane Society of the United States, which opposes ownership of constrictor snakes, has documented more than 200 incidents of snake attacks, escapes, abandonments and cruelty cases in 43 states. The reptiles have been linked to the deaths of 16 people in the U.S., including seven children. A similar trial resulted in a misdemeanor conviction for a father in 2002. In that case, a Pennsylvania judge decided that snake keeper was guilty of misdemeanor child endangerment but not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of his 8-year-old daughter. The girl was constricted by the father's 11-foot-long pet python.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scientists find that non-native snakes are taking a toll on native birds

The Everglades National Park in Florida is home to hundreds of species of native wildlife. It has also become the well-established home of the non-native Burmese python—known to be a predator of native species. Now scientists, for the first time, have conducted a detailed analysis of the avian component of the python's diet and the negative impact the snakes may have on Florida's native birds, including some endangered species.

The Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), native to Southeast Asia, was first recorded in the Everglades in 1979—thought to be escaped or discarded pets. Their numbers have since grown, with an estimated breeding population in Florida in the tens of thousands. As researchers investigate the impact of this snake in the Everglades, scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, South Florida Natural Resources Center and the University of Florida examined the snake's predation of the area's birds. They found that birds, including endangered species, accounted for 25 percent of the python's diet in the Everglades.

"These invasive Burmese pythons are particularly hazardous to native bird populations in North America because the birds didn't evolve with this large reptile as a predator," said Carla Dove, ornithologist at the Smithsonian's Feather Identification Lab in the National Museum of Natural History. "Conversely, the python is able to thrive here partly because it has no natural predator to keep its numbers in check."

The scientists collected 343 Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park as part of their study between 2003 and 2008. Eighty-five of these snakes had bird remains in their intestinal tract. From these remains the team identified 25 species of birds by comparing feathers and bone fragments with specimens in the Smithsonian's collection. The results reflected a wide variety of species, from the 5-inch-long house wren to the 4-foot-long great blue heron. Four of the species identified (snowy egret, little blue heron, white ibis and limpkin) are listed as "species of special concern" by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The team also identified the remains of a wood stork, which is a federally endangered species.

"These pythons can also inhabit a wide variety of habitats, so their impact is not restricted to just the native species within the Everglades," Dove said. "The python's high reproductive rate, longevity, ability to consume large prey and consumption of bird species are causes for serious conservation and control measures."