Posted by: stiltsville | January 5, 2012

Attention Keys residents: Salt water not a barrier to pythons

Female burmese python on nest

Female burmese python on nest

Burmese python hatchlings can withstand exposure to salt water long enough to potentially expand their range through ocean and estuarine environments, according to research in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology.

This recent study, based on lab experiments conducted by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, shows that pythons may be able to survive in marine and estuarine environments such as bays, inlets and open seas. The results raise concerns that the invasive constrictor may invade nearby islands, such as the Florida Keys, said Kristen Hart, a USGS research ecologist and lead author of the study.

“Because reptiles, in general, have poor salinity tolerance, it was hoped that salt water would naturally hinder pythons’ ability to expand their range beyond the Everglades,” Hart said.” Unfortunately, our results suggest salt water alone cannot act as a reliable barrier to the Everglades python population.”

In the lab, researchers tested how long hatchling pythons could survive with only salt water to drink. They found that, when given access only to water with salinity levels equivalent to full marine water, hatchling pythons straight out of their eggs lived about a month. At salinity levels comparable with estuaries, the hatchlings survived about five months.

“The fact that this study has ruled out one of the most hoped-for forms of physical barriers, salt water, as preventing the spread of invasive pythons in Florida puts even more onus on human action to prevent the spread of these damaging reptiles,” explained USGS director Marcia McNutt. “This study demonstrates the distinct possibility that pythons could spread to new suitable habitats one estuary at a time.”

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