New python in Everglades sparks fears of ‘super snake’

  • Thu Jan 14th, 2010 10:20pm
  • News

Sun Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Fears of a new “super snake” emerging in the Everglades grew this week during a hunt to track South Florida’s invasive python population.

A three-day, state-coordinated hunt that started Tuesday had, by Wednesday, netted at least five African rock pythons—including a 14-foot-long female—in a targeted area in Miami-Dade County.

Those findings add to concerns that the rock python is a new breeding population in the Everglades and not just the result of a few overgrown pets released into the wild, according to the South Florida Water Management District.

In addition, state environmental officials worry that the rock python could breed with the Burmese python, which already has an established foothold in the Everglades. That could lead to a new “super snake,” said George Horne, the water district’s deputy executive director.

In Africa, the rock python eats everything from goats to crocodiles. There have been cases of the snakes killing children.

“They are bigger and meaner than the Burmese python. It’s not good news,” said Deborah Drum, deputy director of the district’s restoration sciences department.

The concern is that a hybrid python could pose even more risk of large constrictor snakes overwhelming the Everglades—where they thrive without a natural predator.

The state estimates that thousands of Burmese pythons have spread through the Everglades. Some came from people releasing exotic pets they no longer wished to care for; others are thought to have escaped during hurricanes and then bred new generations in the wild.

The string of unusually cold temperatures in South Florida flushed more of the snakes out of the wild and onto flood control levees.

The snake hunt targets an area near the intersection of Tamiami Trail and Krome Avenue in Miami-Dade County. It includes representatives from the water management district, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Everglades National Park.

Three of the African rock pythons found this week were captured, and two got away. One had a circumference of 31 inches. Another was bearing eggs.

The African rock python typically has a “nastier disposition” than the Burmese python, said LeRoy Rodgers, a water district scientist.

“These are animals that are hot predators, and now there are two species to worry about,” she said.