The Heat Is Online

Pythons Predicted to Migrate to Midwestern US

Pythons Could Slither North as Climate Warms, Feb. 22, 2008

Twenty-foot pythons could soon be on the march--or on the slither--to new parts of North America, thanks to global warming. Climate researchers have worked out the likely places in North America where the climate now--and in the year 2100--resembles their native climes in Pakistan and Indonesia.

Climate modeling for the year 2100 which shows the possible climate range for pythons moving northward and swallowing up northernmost parts of Texas and Arkansas, the southeast half of Kansas, the southern half of Missouri and parts of southern Illinois and Indiana. Further east the big snakes could comfortably creep through Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and southern New Jersey.

Western states like California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico could see python-friendly climates move further north as well, while Washington and Oregon would see python weather for the first time in some places.

The climate maps do not take into account other factors which might keep pythons out, like appropriate food and habitat. Still, the snakes will likely take advantage of the changing climate and spread north wherever they can, said invasive snake expert Gordon Rodda of the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Fort Collins Science Center in Colorado. Rodda conducted the climate modeling and snake range climate maps, which were released this week by the USGS.

The invasion of the pythons was first detected in 2003 when researchers discovered a self-sustaining population of Burmese pythons in the Florida Everglades. The snakes are thought to be the offspring of a released pet.

Since then pythons have also been found in Big Cypress National Preserve north of Everglades National Park, in Miami's water management areas to the northeast, Key Largo to the southeast, and other state parks and public and private lands throughout the region.

The pythons, which can grow more then 20 feet long and weight more than 250 pounds, are strangling and gulping down everything from endangered rodents to deer, panther cubs, opossums and alligators.

 "This is a quantum leap" in snake size, said Rodda. "The largest snake in North America is the bull snake or indigo snake, neither of which exceeds nine feet."

Burmese pythons, a subspecies of the Indian python, can take in much larger prey than any North American native snake species.

"Alligators eat them and they eat alligators," Rodda said.

Large pythons are also capable of killing adult humans, he said, although they currently pose the most danger to endangered Key Largo woodrats and rare round-tailed muskrats, he said.

"I'd be very concerned if I were a Key Largo woodrat," Rodda told Discovery News. Both critters are important players in the Everglades ecology, say biologists.

"This makes it that much more difficult to recover these dwindling populations and restore the Everglades," said National Park Service biologist Skip Snow. He also pointed out that releasing pet snakes into the wild is illegal.

USGS researchers are also looking into the potential for similar invasions by nine species of giant constrictors, including boa constrictors and yellow anacondas, which are common in the pet snake trade.