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Florida has a problem. Not with politicians, too many sun-seeking tourists, part-time senior citizens residents, or vacationing college students. No, Florida has a problem with snakes. Burmese pythons to be exact.
Florida, home of Walt Disney World, is accustomed to welcoming visitors from around the world. But, some visitors are more problematic. Burmese pythons, it turns out, do not make very nice visitors, especially because they have decided to stay.
Burmese pythons are not warm and snuggly, even metaphorically. Cold-blooded and smooth is more their style. Snuggly to a python equals deadly to whatever they are snuggling. And, that is part of the problem. Burmese pythons are a non-native, invasive species that is eating up the Everglades’ native species and upsetting the balance of its ecosystem.
To educate the public about this growing problem, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is sponsoring the 2013 Python Challenge. During the month-long challenge which culminates February 10, the public and python permit holders are challenged to capture Burmese pythons in the Everglades. Prizes are awarded for capturing the most pythons, and for capturing the largest python. So far, 41 snakes have been captured.
How did a snake whose native-land is on the opposite side of the globe come to infiltrate the Florida Everglades? What are the eating and reproductive habits of the Burmese python? How and why is this python altering the Everglades’ ecosystem? Travel to sites online that introduce you to the Burmese python, the Everglades’ unique ecosystem, and the challenge facing wildlife managers in Florida’s Everglades.
Wrap Your Brain Around This—
The Burmese python is one kind of python. Begin by learning more about pythons in general. Click on the audio link at the bottom of the box in the left margin to hear a python. How are pythons able to kill and swallow animals that are larger than their own head? It begins with constriction. Now learn more about Burmese python.
View data from the National Park Service about python removal in and around Everglades National Park. Use the data to create a bar graph. What does the data suggest? What theory do you have to explain the sudden drop in python removal during 2011? Read the Q and A session with herpetologist, Shawn Heflick. What do you learn from the interview that might explain the drop?
Burmese pythons are not a common pet; dogs and cats are far more common. Yet, some people do try to keep Burmese python as pets. Why are these pythons not suited to be a household pet? What questions might potential pet owners ask before they adopt a pet? What can responsible owners do once they decide they can no longer care for their pet?
Burmese pythons do not belong in Florida. They are considered an invasive species. Based on this definition, predict what their impact is on their adopted home, the Florida Everglades. Watch the first segment (to 7:00) of Nature’s Invasion of the Giant Pythons to discover the two primary ways pythons arrived in the Everglades, why pythons do not make suitable pets, and what makes pythons dangerous predators.
The Everglades National Park is a World Heritage Site. It houses a unique web of life, including a freshwater river, sawgrass marshes, and mangroves. Manatees and countless bird species live or migrate there. The Everglades is famous for its alligators. What impact does the Burmese python have on this unique ecosystem? Who would win: alligator versus Burmese python? What attributes does each bring to the battle? What makes the python an efficient predator? Pick your contender and then watch from 7:00 to 17:40 to discover the incredible answers.
What else is on the python’s plate? View a dissection and to find out what Burmese python in the Everglades eat; skip ahead and watch from 23:33 to 25:00. View the National Conservancy slideshow In the Belly of a Python for a look at some of the Everglades’ species being eaten by python.
Scientists are concerned not only about protecting and preserving the Everglades’ species and ecosystem, but also about preventing the Burmese python from invading other areas of the south. What are scientists and park managers doing to protect native species from pythons? Return to Nature; watch from 25:00 to 28:15, then fast forward and view from 36:41 to 39:35. Finally, watch from 48:00 to the end.
Reflect on what you have learned about the Burmese python’s reproduction, growth, diet, movement, and habitat. Explain why they have been able to invade the Everglades and what makes the invasion of the Burmese python dangerous to native Everglade species, and to the Everglades ecosystem.