New Python Species Invading South Florida

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Biologists say that a highly aggressive species of python is threatening to invade South Florida in a major way, adding its numbers to those of the Burmese pythons that already plague the state, the Associated Press reported.

African rock python

African rock python. Credit: Thinkstock.

The snakes in question are African rock pythons, which are the largest snakes in Africa, reaching 16 feet in length. Experts describe these pythons as among the most aggressive snakes in the world, willing to eat anything they can manage to swallow.

Wildlife officials conducted a survey on Friday to locate some of the pythons in an area of South Florida where several have been seen and captured in recent years. The survey turned up none of the snakes, but officials still believe they are there, although they hope the survey's results mean the local population of African rock pythons is on the decline.

"The past four years, we've removed over 30," said wildlife biologist Jenny Ketterlin-Eckles. "We think, and we hope, that they haven't adapted to the Everglades yet."

It is illegal to own an African rock python as a pet in the United States, but many are smuggled into the country each year. Many people who keep the snakes illegally eventually abandon them when the animal becomes too difficult to care for. Wildlife officials believe this is how the snakes have established themselves in the South Florida ecosystem.

"They don't belong here in Florida," said Jorge Pino, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Any non-native species that's introduced into the ecosystem causes havoc for the animals that are here."

African rock pythons are nonvenomous, but they can be dangerous. In September, an African rock python killed a Siberian Husky in the dog's own backyard just west of Miami. In their native Africa, they have been known to kill human children.

To report a sighting of any large snake, call 1-800-I-GOT-ONE. Those who own African rock pythons can surrender them to the state of Florida with no questions asked.

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