Unless you are fearless, the thought of a 200-pound snake in your backyard is enough to send shivers down your spine. Unfortunately, this is the situation the state of Texas is trying to avoid by preventing an invasion by Burmese pythons.
The pythons have taken over Florida, mainly residing in the Everglades. The invasion has become problematic, with many measures being put across to control the population of these constrictors.
Read on to understand the Burmese python situation and why it is a cause of worry in Texas.
Background of the Burmese Python Situation
The Burmese python is native to Southeast Asia. It’s found in India, Nepal, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The first sightings of this massive snake in the Everglades were around the mid to late 1990s.
During the 1980s to 1990s, Burmese pythons became popular in the pet trade. Many wanted to own this reptile due to its colorful skin and calm temperament.
However, some pythons escaped their homes and found solace in the Everglades. Many owners realized they could not manage the massive full-grown snakes, so they released them into the wild.
The escaped pets are a small part of the problem.
Hurricane Andrew takes the most blame for the python situation. The hurricane dealt a big blow to Florida in 1992 and destroyed a lot of properties. Among the properties it destroyed was a Burmese python breeding facility, leading to the escape of several snakes.
The Current Situation of Burmese Pythons
Presently, Burmese pythons are an invasive species in the state of Florida. The classification is due to the impact on the environment, especially the Everglades, where they reside.
In the mid to late 1990s, the sightings were very few, but the figure spiked to around 30,000 between 2008 and 2011. If you tour the Everglades, you will likely spot at least one python. Seeing them during the day may be tricky, as they are nocturnal.
Why a Burmese Python Invasion in Texas Is Worrying
Burmese pythons are a menace, evident by their severe ecological damage in the Everglades. That is why Texas does not want anything to do with this giant reptile.
Let us look at the effects of this snake and why its population should be controlled.
It Is an Apex Predator
The Burmese python is an apex predator in the Everglades, with almost no natural predator. It means its population hardly drops. However, its predation disturbs the ecology in South Florida as it competes with the alligator, the native apex predator.
Its Effect on Other Species
The main reason the python is a menace is its effect on other species in the ecosystem. For instance, the snakes heavily preyed on marsh rabbits after their reintroduction into Florida’s wetlands.
According to a study, there was a significant drop in the sighting of mammals that live in the Everglades. For instance, there was more than a 90% drop in raccoon sightings and around 88% in bobcats. The food web interruptions can have a severe effect on the ecosystem.
Furthermore, this snake is host to pentastome, a parasite. Its invasion of the Everglades led to the transmission of this parasite to the native snakes.
What Advantages Does the Burmese Python Have for Its Survival?
The python flourishes in the Everglades due to various reasons.
To begin with, it has a large build, which gives it an upper hand in catching larger prey and fighting potential predators, such as the alligator. In the wild, this constrictor can grow up to five meters or 16 feet long. In addition, its muscular body allows it to hang on trees awaiting prey and to constrict them, which is its primary arsenal.
The Burmese python is well-adapted to living on land and water. It spends most of its time on land or trees and can stay up to 30 minutes underwater. This adaptation gives it an advantage similar to the alligator, as it can hunt in water and on land.
The other survival advantage of Burmese pythons lies in their breeding. They mate in spring, and the female lays a cluster of around 60 eggs but can be as many as 100. It protects the eggs during the incubation period, which lasts from two to three months.
The female leaves the nest after the hatchlings hatch. The large number of eggs increases the offspring’s chances of survival.
As mentioned earlier, this snake has few natural predators in the Everglades, allowing its populations to grow. Additionally, it has a long lifespan of around 20 years in the wild.
The Range of the Burmese Python in the US
At the moment, the range of the Burmese python is mainly in Southern Florida, in the Everglades. Estimates place the population of these snakes at around a million, occupying a range of more than 1,000 square miles.
While mainly found in Florida, most probably due to the climate, experts predict an expansion of their range northward towards South Maryland.
Also, the range may extend further west towards Southern California, covering parts of Texas.
Can Burmese Pythons Invade Texas
Burmese pythons thrive in warm climates, like Florida, characterized by humidity, high temperatures, and moderate precipitation. The high temperatures are ideal for basking, as they are cold-blooded animals.
The Southern tip of Texas has a similar climate to Florida; thus, this reptile will thrive well.
Most southern states, like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, have the same weather conditions, making it easy for the python to expand its range from Florida to Texas.
Burmese pythons can hardly survive in the northern states due to the harsh cold climates. This is one of the reasons why there are few snakes in Northern Florida.
The Possible Effects of Burmese Pythons on Texas
There are few recorded sightings of this giant snake in Texas, most being escaped pets.
At the moment, it appears there are no wild populations. Nevertheless, with climate changes brought by global warming, Texas might be their new home. The following are the possible implications of this constrictor’s takeover of the Lone Star state.
Extinction of Some Species
Texas’ wildlife is diverse, featuring animals like the nine-banded armadillo and the Mexican free-tailed bat, which are the official state animals.
It is also home to vulnerable and threatened species, such as the Texas kangaroo rat, ocelot, and the critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.
If the Burmese python encroaches into the Texan ecosystem, it will prey on several animals, including the endangered ones. Ultimately, the predation may lead to some species going extinct.
In the case of the ocelot, the Burmese python may outcompete it for food or prey on it, leading to lower populations in the USA. The Texas kangaroo rat is at a significant disadvantage, as it is nocturnal, like this giant snake.
Transmission of Parasites
Texas is home to more than 90 species of snakes, which can get into minor altercations with the python. However, the issue is not the fights; rather, it is the bigger snake’s susceptibility to pentastomes, which it may pass to the other snakes, threatening their existence.
Conflicts With Humans
Texas is among the most densely populated states in the USA, and human-wildlife conflicts are common. Humans can cross paths with the snake if it makes its way to farms or homes, where it may prey on livestock and pets.
Also, it may pass parasites, such as the aforementioned pentastome, to humans. Exposure to the parasite may lead to pentastomiasis, linguatula, and armillifer infections.
Can Burmese pythons attack humans?
These Southeast Asia originals are timid and fear humans, despite their strength.
Human deaths from non-venomous snake attacks are rare, about one to two per year worldwide. All reported human deaths caused by constrictor snakes were from captive snakes. Most were due to humans interacting freely with their pet snakes or the constrictors attacking infants or small children in homes where they are kept as pets.
Fortunately, no human death from Burmese pythons living in the wild has ever been reported. So, generally, the risk of a Burmese python attacking humans is very low.
Attacks are rare, but you should be extra careful when handling them. It has a powerful bite, which can lead to severe injuries and infection.
Measures Implemented to Control Burmese Python Populations
Texas still has no problem with the gigantic constrictors, but it can borrow a leaf from Florida’s books to prevent the snake’s invasion.
The following are some measures that might keep the population of this invasive species at manageable levels.
Banning Their Importation
The importation of Burmese pythons is the root of the problem faced by the Everglades.
The government stepped in to control the situation by banning imports of this snake, and other potentially risky species, like the yellow anaconda and the African python. The 2012 ban ensures that no more non-native species encroach on various ecosystems.
There are various snake species banned in Texas that you should know about if you want a pet snake. Check with the relevant authorities if you wish to have a permit.
Strict Laws on Pet Owners
A few negligent pet owners released overgrown snakes into the wild, yet Hurricane Andrew was the biggest cause of the imbalance that Southern Florida is still dealing with.
There are laws implemented to prevent such negligence. For instance, you need permits to own certain pets, including the Burmese python.
Burmese Python Predation
The best way of controlling the python’s population is to have predators hunt them down. But unfortunately, there are no natural predators of the snake in the wild.
The state of Florida offers hunting permits for the python. Actually, you can get paid for delivering a python. This encourages citizens to be up in arms against invasive species.
Some people eat python meat. While the python is fleshy, which most people say resembles fish or gator meat, it is quite tough.
The good news is that there are restaurants specializing in python meat, with the best chefs handling the reptile to make it more suitable for the table.
If you are into exotic dining, you should try python meat at least once when you are in Florida.
Burmese pythons threaten the USA’s ecosystem, more so the Everglades, where they have been unwelcomed guests for almost three decades.
The giant snakes made it to Florida courtesy of the pet trade and a hurricane. Regardless the cause, Florida is not
Texas is looking at a looming threat of invasion, with a few sightings of this constrictor. The good news is that the pythons were escaped pets and not from the wild. So all we have to do is wait and see how Texas will fend off the potential invasion.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Irina oxilixo Danilova/Shutterstock.com
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