Burmese pythons, one of the largest snakes in the world and native to Southeast Asia, have been on the increase in Florida since 1992, thanks to the international pet trade. The native habitat of Burmese pythons in Asia is a climate match for much of the southeastern United States. Originally imported as pets, the snakes have found themselves set loose in an environment that is conducive to their procreation and spread.
While no one theory controls how this invasion of the pythons began, two seem to hold sway. One posits that owners who grew tired of the “pets” simply dumped them. Burmese pythons are popular—and legal—pet snakes. In a five year period – 1999 to 2004 - the United States imported more than 144,000 Burmese pythons.
Hatchlings sell for as little as $20. But once the cute little babies turn into 15-foot-long beasts, many owners decide to get rid of their pets by dumping them in the forest.
Another theory holds that many of the restless reptiles escaped during the fury of hurricanes. But, regardless of how they got loose, their population has exploded and threatens to move northward from Southern Florida.
Biologists with Everglades National Park confirmed a breeding population of Burmese python in the Florida Everglades in 2003, presumably the result of released pets. Python populations have since been discovered in Big Cypress National Preserve to the north, Miami’s water management areas to the northeast, Key Largo to the southeast, and many state parks, municipalities, and public and private lands in the region.
The pythons, which can grow to a length of 20 or more feet and a weight of more than 250 pounds, have no natural enemies. The snakes even have the moxy to tackle alligators – many times with little success.
The invasion of the pythons is the direct result of humans tinkering with nature. In the quest to own ever-more exotic pets, Americans buy and keep various species which are not native to this country. The sad ending is often destruction of an environment when an invasive species takes over the natural environment and proceeds to decimate it. Reminds me of the old commercial saying “It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature.”