for National Geographic News
For decades pet Burmese pythons have been dumped illegally in Florida's Everglades National Park.
As pets, Burmese pythons are easy to find and cheap to buy. Many pet stores in Florida sell the popular, docile snakes. At reptile trade shows they sell for as little as $20 (U.S.).
- Python-Tracking Puppy Trains to Patrol Everglades
- Photo in the News: Python Bursts After Eating Gator
- Huge, Freed Pet Pythons Invade Florida Everglades
- Behind Threats to World's Largest Freshwater Wetland
- Alien Invasion: Exotic Species Sow Destruction Across the Atlantic
- Fugitive Rat Teaches Lesson About Invasive Species Control
Last year 6,140 Burmese pythons were imported into the U.S. from their native homes in Southeast Asia, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Thousands more were captive bred in the country.
Now hundreds of the constrictorswhich reach upwards of 19 feet (6 meters) and 200 pounds (91 kilograms)are breeding and expanding their range in Florida wetlands.
"These [snakes] are now the huge apex predator in the Everglades," said Kenneth Krysko, a reptile researcher with the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. "There's nothing bigger."
The massive snakes potentially pose a threat to human safety.
"Pythons don't go out and search for humans. But as a sit-and-wait predator they certainly can kill oneand certainly wouldn't hesitate if [a human] got in their way," Krysko said.
The first python was discovered in the Everglades in 1979. It was removed, and no more were found until 1995.
In the last four years, though, the population has exploded. More than 230 pythons have been discovered inside the park, Krysko said. The biggest one measured 15 feet (5 meters) long.
Last October an employee of the South Florida Water Management District found five pythonseach eight to ten feet (two to three meters) longin one day while mowing grass adjacent to the park.
The python's population boom has the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) worried.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES