Calling All Snake Hunters
The real impact of invasive species and what we can do to help.
All is quiet on the Everglades front, at least as far as mammals are concerned. Why? Thanks to the Burmese pythons that have been released either accidentally... or on purpose.
Animals of the Everglades, especially mammals, have never encountered a constrictor as large as the Burmese python, which can grow up to 26-feet in length. It’s no wonder Florida mammals have never developed strategies to deal with these cold-blooded killers.
And these snakes have a knack for reproducing. The females will lay up to 100 eggs a year.
With few natural predators, they have thrived.
The Burmese python population has been growing since the late 1980s or early 1990s. Some pythons were released by their owners when they became too big to handle or when the owner just got tired of feeding it.
During Hurricane Andrew, a facility that bred pythons was destroyed, and many snakes were free to roam the Everglades.
Since pythons have been unleashed on the Everglades, the population of mammals has been in decline.
Rats, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, foxes, bobcats and deer have all but disappeared, with the population declining over 90%, according to the United States Geological Survey. Pythons also eat birds and alligators, in fact, they will prey on almost all terrestrial animals.
Calling all snake hunters!
To combat this new invasive species, the State of Florida has started to license python hunters to help reduce the population. But as fast as they breed and with over 1.5 million acres to cover, it is doubtful that they will have much of an impact.
Kameron Delahoz, one of the licensed python hunters commented, “Sometimes they are merely impossible to find because of their camouflage. One ten-hour trip could yield nothing.” He goes on to say, “I’ve seen the damage the pythons are doing. You don’t see mammals like you used to.”
Ever try python meat? Well, it tastes like chicken. However, it can be tough so it needs to be stewed or ground. You might want to hold off on Florida pythons however because the meat can contain unusually high levels of mercury.
Like a python wallet or python boots? They are on the market. Some of the hunters are skinning and tanning the skins for all sorts of items. If you can make it from leather, you can make it from python skin. If nothing else, at least this invasive species is helping the economy grow and giving some Floridians some unique jobs.
Pythons aren’t the only invasive species that is wreaking havoc on Florida.
African rock pythons and boa constrictors from South America have also been found. Iguanas have also invaded Florida, and while they aren’t destroying the native animals, they are breeding at a high rate and eating many ornamentals, and digging up the banks of drainage canals across the southern part of the state. And don’t forget the lionfish is attacking Florida’s waters. They are more aggressive than most native species, and they can easily eat them out of existence.
How far will this species stretch across the U.S. as they increase in number? These cold-blooded snakes will be limited by cold weather, but with climate warming, will they be able to migrate up to the panhandle, then west to Louisiana and Texas? Some scientists think that they may be able to adapt to colder weather and might survive as far north as South Carolina.
Once a non-native species begins to breed, it is difficult, if not impossible to remove it from an ecosystem. Animals like the Asian (golden) carp, cane toads, and zebra mussels, and plants such as water hyacinth, kudzu, hydrilla, and water lettuce are all out-competing their native counterparts. As they displace the native species, the ecosystem begins to change, not just for a short time, but forever.
What can you do to help?
You don’t have to be a snake sniper to make a difference. But you can get involved in other ways.
Governments and consumers need to put safeguards in place to keep invasives from invading. So, talking to council people, representatives, and other politicians can make a huge impact.
Limiting the trade in some of these species is the best place to start. Governments can do this by passing laws and regulating trade.
You can also do your part by simply not buying non-native species, no matter how cute or unusual, or unique they might be.
One look at the invasives in Florida, and it is easy to see that Darwin’s theory is alive and well. Unfortunately, little can be done to put the invasive genie back in the bottle. The best we can hope for is that through governmental regulations and increased personal responsibility, we can keep the problem from getting worse.
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