Rock Python Florida

ImageAlready squeezed by the invasion of the giant Burmese python, Florida now faces what one scientist calls one of the U.S. state's "worst nightmares."

Africa's largest snake—the ill-tempered, 20-foot-long (6.1-meter-long) African rock python—is colonizing the U.S. state, new discoveries suggest.
Six African rock pythons have been found in Florida since 2002. More troubling, a pregnant female and two hatchlings have been found, which means the aggressive reptiles have set up house.

More dangerous than even Burmese pythons—which are known to eat alligators (alligator-python picture)—the African pythons are "so mean, they come out of the egg striking, " said Kenneth Krysko, senior herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

"This is just one vicious animal."

So far the giant snakes have been found only in a single square mile (2.6 square kilometers) of suburban area west of Miami. Pet breeders unprepared for the pythons' ferocity may have released them, Krysko said.

What's "really scary" is that the new invaders only have to cross the road to enter Everglades National Park, where Burmese pythons have already eaten thousands of native animals, he said.

With the addition of the rock python, Florida is now an established home-away-from-home for three large alien constrictors—including the Burmese species and the boa constrictor—according to wildlife biologist Robert Reed, who studies invasive reptiles for the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Collins, Colorado.

(The Florida python crisis will be covered in a future episode of Explorer on the U.S. National Geographic Channel. The National Geographic Channel is part-owned by the National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

Pythons Threaten Mice and Men
In its native habitat, sub-Saharan Africa, the African rock python eats small mammals, antelope, warthog, herons, and other animals.

In Florida the African snake might "eat almost any warm-blooded animal that is big enough to ingest, " as the Burmese python does, USGS's Reed said. "Dozens of species of native wildlife, from white-tailed deer to 6-foot [183-centimeter] alligators to birds, have been found in the digestive tracts of Burmese pythons in Florida, " said Reed, who is also working with the Florida museum's Krysko on the Florida python problem.

Also like the Burmese python, the African snake is a constrictor. Lacking poison, it kills animals by encircling and literally squeezing the life out of them.Florida wildlife may not be the only creatures at risk. In Africa, rock pythons are known to have attacked humans, Krysko said.

Hidden in a Florida swamp, he added, the African python "could strike you and you wouldn't even know it was there."

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