Monster Snakes Threaten Ecosystem and Humans in Florida

u.s., science, florid, snakes, rocky pthyon

Most people know that Florida has a history of invasive reptile species. Until recently, researchers have noticed that monster snakes, that are larger and more aggressive than the Burmese python, are threatening the ecosystem and possibly humans in Florida. The potentially dangerous snake is known as the African Rock python. Florida scientists are calling the snakes “one of their worst nightmares.”

The African rock python can grow to 20 feet long and have extremely aggressive temperaments. It is actually quite common to see freshly hatched rock pythons striking at any intruder that comes near them. These snakes are normally found in African savannahs, grasslands and rocky outcrops. They love to hide out in driftwood piles, old termite mounds and abandoned aardvark dens. The African rock python normally loves to eat small to medium-sized antelopes, hares, monkeys, rodents, monitor lizards, crocodiles and an occasional fish. A female can lay up to 20 to 60 eggs, with extremely large females that are capable of laying up to 100; females than stay with their eggs to protect them from predators and to incubate them for two to three months.  During this time, she will neither feed nor drink water.

Since last fall the snakes have only been spotted in about one square mile within a suburban area west of Miami. Although rare, there are reported attacks on humans that have been eaten by the rock pythons in Africa. More than likely humans with small-sized frames were ever successfully consumed, but the power of these snakes is a danger to anyone due to the power of their constriction they use to suffocate their prey. Wildlife officials think the snakes may have been released specimens from the pet trade when their ferocious personalities became too much to handle along with their size. The biggest worry wildlife officials mention, is that the African rock pythons only have to cross the road and they will be in Everglades National Park. The snakes will then be living among many Burmese pythons that have already decimated thousands of native wildlife in their wake.

These snakes have the potential to take over the niche that invasive Burmese pythons have made for themselves, due to their temperament and size differences.  Burmese pythons could actually end up on the dinner plate for the African Rock python as well as taking a much bigger toll on other wildlife they consume. At least in Africa, the rock pythons have natural predators, such as leopards, lions and other big predators in order to keep their populations in check. As an invasive species, these snakes do not have any large predators that are willing to deal with them once they reach a certain size.

It is illegal in the U.S. to own African rock pythons as pets or to sell them. If they are obtained for zoos or research, special permits are required to possess the snakes. Every year these snakes are illegally brought into the U.S. as pets, but end up being released due to how expensive they are to feed and their nasty temperament. Experts think about a dozen or more were dumped just because of these reasons. The southern Florida weather and habitat closely mimic their natural home in Africa, making it easy for the animals to acclimate.

Earlier this year there was a special hunt for the Burmese pythons in order to thin out populations of the invasive species. 1600 hunters came out and around 68 snakes were obtained during the hunt. Although, the chances of actually eradicating the snakes are near to impossible say wildlife officials. The African rock python is now one of three invasive large colubrid snakes that are populating south Florida. Wildlife officials and researchers are doing their best to get ahead of the problem, but with the new rock python species it will make things even more challenging. These monster snakes will continue to threaten the ecosystem and humans in Florida for quite some time, unless something can be done soon to eradicate them.

By Tina Elliott


National Geographic