We have some exciting news! Recently, a 9.5 ft. Burmese python skin was donated to the Bruce Museum. This skin is from the 1960s and, as you can see, unrolls beautifully in our hallway. We already have ideas for how to use this skin, and there are many teaching opportunities to be explored.
One especially relevant topic about pythons has been in the news recently. In Florida, state officials launched the 2016 “Python Challenge” Burmese python hunt on January 16. The goal is simple: To remove as many Burmese pythons from the Everglades as possible. This may seem cruel, but it is vitally necessary for the ecosystem of the Everglades.
Burmese pythons are not native to the United States. They come from the tropics of South and Southeast Asia. Their striking patterns and relaxed nature make them popular pet choices for reptile enthusiasts all over the US. Unfortunately, some pet owners buy young pythons without understanding the scope of the responsibility they represent. These snakes can live to be 25 years old, average around 12 feet long as adults, and need more than 30 square feet of space in their adult enclosures. Instead of rehoming pet pythons that grew larger than they expected, overwhelmed pet owners released them into the wilds of Florida.
Burmese pythons were spotted in Florida as early as the 1980s but it was in the early 2000s that people realized they were reproducing. This was very bad news, as it meant that they were a self-perpetuating population. Since then, the number of pythons in the Everglades has expanded exponentially. Estimates put the current population size in the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands.
These pythons are devastating local wildlife of the Everglades. Bobcat, raccoon, opossum, rabbit, fox, and other mammal populations have declined precipitously since pythons became common. Birds haven't been spared either. The demise of prey species leaves native predators hungry, including vulnerable populations of the American Crocodile and other endangered species.
As I write this, 17 pythons have been caught so far in the Python Challenge. Every snake that is removed will save native animals, but it will take a lot more than that to even make a dent in python density. If we want to save the Everglades from these slithering invaders, we have a long way to go.
Not all snakes are bad news
Though many people fear snakes, native species are very beneficial to both the environment and to humans. Most snakes are harmless to humans and even venomous snakes would much rather hide and avoid us than bite. Many varieties of snakes eat rodents and this helps keep populations of these small furry animals from becoming overwhelming. Rodents can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. By keeping rodent populations low, snakes are also decreasing the likelihood that humans will catch Lyme disease from infected ticks that bit the wrong mouse.
When properly cared for, many snake species can make for enchanting pets. People just need to make certain that they are prepared to care for a snake throughout the entirety of its life, and remember that releasing pets into the wild can have dire consequences. Of course, there are a variety of delightful native species of snakes that can be kept safely too!
- Kate Dzikiewicz, Paul Griswold Howes Fellow