The Florida Keys Could Be Heading for a Python Invasion

Pythons have made some terrifying surprise appearances in Florida. On Christmas day, for example, a Miami family found a 13-footer in their swimming pool.

But something that saved the state from full-on python panic is the idea that the snakes don't tolerate salt water well. So while they might be a big problem in the mostly freshwater of the Everglades, researchers and residents in the area assumed they couldn't travel through saltwater to make their way to the Keys, the islands that spray off the southern tip of the state.

But a new study is putting the kibash on that idea. Researchers at Southeast Ecological Science Center studied python babies in the lab, and found that after hatching, they survived in saltwater much longer than expected. They caught 24 newborn Burmese pythons, and divided them into three groups: one received fresh water, one brackish estuary water and the third was exposed only to sea water. They expected the third group to die quickly, but they survived for more than a month. The brackish water group survived for about five months.

And since in the wild snakes would have opportunities to find fresh water, unlike those in the experiment, they could likely live much longer. Plus, they could hop a ride on debris, or maybe even an alligator, for more longevity and mobility.

All good reasons not to adopt a pet python, which is now considered an invasive species in Florida. Both the Burmese and the even more terrifying African Rock pythons have been wreaking havoc in the state. They escape (or are freed), they eat children and pets, and now they just might invade the Florida Keys. Try a kitten: super cute, doesn't subsist on live creatures. Just keep it indoors because of, you know, all the pythons.

[The New York Times]

Image: Shutterstock/Eric Isselée