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Texas Invasive Species Institute

Texas Invasive Species Institute

Burmese & African Rock Pythons

Python sp.

Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Family: Pythonidae

Python sp.

Photographer: Vassil Source: www.commons.wikimedia.org Public Domain

Description

Two species of snakes from the genus Python have been introduced and established in Florida. The burmese python (Python molurus) was introduced first followed by the African rock python (Python sebae) establishing in South Florida. The African rock python is the largest known species of snake native to Africa with an average adult length of 20 feet and lengths recorded up to 30 feet. The Burmese python is a commonly desired pet due to its bright colors and patterns, but is also known to attack handlers. Many owners are surprised at the rapid growth rate of Burmese pythons with adults reaching 23 feet and 200 pounds. Both Python species are non venomous, but are considered  dangerous because of their strong jaw and aggressive behavior.

Ecological Threat

The Burmese python and the African rock pythons are known for their aggressive behaviors and ability to sneak up on unsuspecting prey. The Burmese python is known for attacking and killing alligators for prey, but the African rock python is considered more viscous and aggressive. Both Python species have been observed to attack humans and several other large prey items. Household pets, children, and wildlife are at most risk of attack. To date, wildlife have suffered the greatest loss from the introduction of the pythons because they can quietly sneak up on prey better than native alligators. Prey is captured with a large powerful jaw and squeezed by body of the snake until it is suffocated.

Biology

Burmese pythons are considered solitary animals and mating season is indicated by mature adults seen in pairs. Females lay eggs with clutch sizes of up to 100 eggs that are cared for by the mother through heat producing muscle contractions that looks like shivering. Similarly African rock pythons will lay eggs with a clutch size ranging from 30 to 60 eggs and clutch sizes of 100 eggs possible. The incubation period lasts for 2 to 3 months during which the female will not feed and occasionally drink.

History

Burmese pythons were introduced accidentally to the Florida Everglades in 1997 most likely as an escaped pet or a release of an unwanted pet. Since their release the Burmese pythons have continued to reproduce and become established in the swamps of the everglades. In 2002 an additional invasive python was discovered in the Everglades, the African rock python. Since 2002, six African rock pythons have been discovered including a pregnant female, indicating that reproduction is possible in the wild for this invasive species as well.

Native Origin

Africa

Current Location

U.S. Present: South Florida and the Everglades

U.S. Habitat: The Burmese python and African rock pythons are found only in the Everglades of South Florida in marshes and swamps.

Management

Wildlife authorities are working to contain the two Python sp. in the everglades before they expand further into the state of Florida. It was initially believed that the Burmese python would not be able to breed in the wild, but that was proven false. With the recent introduction of the African rock python, experts have developed a "Python patrol" in an effort to eradicate populations of both species before a hybrid is formed. If you have seen a python it is important to notify local wildlife management authorities immediately. Both introduced species of pythons are known for their aggression and it is not safe for untrained individuals to approach these animals.

References

Avery, Michael L., Richard M. Engeman, Kandy L. Keacher, John S. Humphrey, William E. Bruce, Tom C. Mathies and Richard E. Mauldin. 2010. Cold weather and the potential range of invasive Burmese pythons. Biological Invasions 12(11):3649-3652.

Branch, W. R., and W. D. Hacke. 1975. Notes on the Development of Embryos of the African Rock Python, Python sebae (Serpentes: Boidae). Journal of Herpetology 9(2):243-248.

Branch, W. R., and W. D. Hacke. 1980. A Fatal Attack on a Young Boy by an African Rock Python Python sebae. Journal of Herpetology 14(3):305-307.

Dell'Amore, Christine. 2009. Python Nightmare: New Giant Species Invading Florida. National Geographic News.

Graham, J. C. 2010. More than One Way to Skin a Burmese Python: Multiple Possibilities for Fixing the Invasive Species Problem in the United States. Available at SSRN

Groot, T. V. M., D. Bruins, and J. A. J. Breeuwer. 2003. Molecular genetic evidence for parthenogenesis in the Burmese python, Python molurus bivittatus. Heredity 90:130-135.

Reed, Robert N. 2005. An Ecological Risk Assessment of Nonnative Boas and Pythons as Potentially Invasive Species in the United States. Risk Analysis 25(3):753-766.

Secor, Stephen M. 2003. Gastric function and its contribution to the postprandial metabolic response of the Burmese python Python molurus. The Journal of Experimental Biology 206: 1621-1630.

Starck, J. M., and K. Beese. 2001. Structural flexibility of the intestine of the Burmese python in response to feeding. The Journal of Experimental Biology 204:325-335.

Internet References

http://www.itis.gov/

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com

http://southafrican-wildlife.blogspot.com

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