Post by Joanna on Sept 2, 2018 20:34:25 GMT -5
'Super Snake' Could Emerge from Everglades
A genetic study has raised the question of whether a super snake could emerge in the Florida Everglades after it was revealed a small number of Burmese and Indian pythons have been breeding. The journal Ecology and Evolution reported that experts examined tail tissue of 400 captured snakes from South Florida and found 13 had some genetic indicators that point to Indian pythons. Indian pythons, unlike Burmese pythons, prefer high and dry grounds.
Margaret Hunter, a geneticist at the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author of the report, said the Indian pythons have a “wider range.” Seeing the Indian marker was “unexpected,” she added and continued searching for data “to make sure what she was seeing was correct.”
Tens of thousands of pythons are estimated to be slithering through the Everglades and scientists say the giant constrictor snakes, which can grow to more than 20 feet in length, have eliminated 99 percent of the native mammals in the area, decimating food sources for native predators such as panthers and alligators. The region also was habitat for American crocodiles, one of the protected native species in the Everglades that officials say are losing ground to the invasive pythons.
In her report, Hunter stated that it is unclear how the species got crossed, but scientists believe the snakes could head north due to the warming planet. “Such a large population allows them to rapidly adapt,” she explained. “If some animals die out because of climatic issues, there are other animals that may not die out.”
The original purpose of the study was to look at the genetic makeup of South Florida snakes to better understand how they spread and how to help control them. Pythons began turning up in the 1980s, likely escapees from a South Dade breeding facility or released pets. Snake owners often release their pets when they become too large or when they tire of the reptiles. By 2000, pythons were declared official residents in Everglades National Park and have since continued to expand north into the state’s water conservation areas and west into Big Cypress Swamp. In 2016, they were discovered breeding in the Keys for the first time.
If snakes in different areas had different DNA, this might tell wildlife managers something about how they have been able to reproduce and spread so quickly. “We were initially looking for the population structure to get some information to shed some light on the invasion dynamics, or the core areas where the population may be breeding and then sending off migrants,” Hunter continued.
It is unclear where the species got crossed, she conceded. In their native ranges, Burmese and Indian pythons have remained mostly distinct either because of the prey they eat or barriers in habitat. But they could breed in the wild. Additionally, breeders frequently cross species to produce more desirable colors and patterns for the pet trade. The snakes may also have hooked up in the Everglades, but Hunter said it seems less likely since the markers she detected, which are only passed down through female snakes, were historical.
Sources: Jenny Staleovitch, The Miami Herald, August 23, 2018, and Fox News, August 27, 2018.