FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Pythons have posed a threat to the Florida Everglades since the invasive species was first introduced to the area in the 1980s. With no natural predators in the Sunshine State, the snakes have risen to the top of the food chain.
Now, a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) suggests the python problem could slither beyond the “River of Grass” and affect the rest of Florida.
The findings, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, show that some of the pythons found in the Everglades are, in fact, hybrids.
“We set out to investigate the Burmese python in the Everglades to help provide information for management and conservation agencies… we found 13 of the 400 snakes that we analyzed had portions of Indian python within their genome,” said Margaret Hunter, a USGS geneticist and lead author of the study.
Unlike the marsh-loving Burmese python, the Indian python prefers a high, drier habitat. Experts worry this means the snakes could more easily adapt and invade other parts of the state.
“This might allow this population to expand into drier environments — maybe further to the north or outside of the Everglades — where the population is right now,” Hunter told Fox News.
Scientists consider the python to be Florida’s largest invasive species, which has wreaked havoc on the Everglades ecosystem, killing off many native animals — from rabbits to deer and even alligators. Experts worry any expansion of the python population could lead to local extinctions of native mammals in the Everglades.
Up to 100,000 pythons are believed to be slithering through the state’s wetlands, most of them descendants of pets illegally released into the wild.
The South Florida Water Management District created the Python Elimination Program last year, hiring 25 hunters to kill the invasive predators. The largest caught so far: a whopping 18-foot long snake.
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