An invasion of giant snakes has turned Florida into a potential spawning ground for hybrid super-serpents capable of devouring humans.
The discovery of African rock pythons close to the Everglades wetlands is a worrying development for wildlife officers already troubled by the rising population of Burmese pythons, bred from pets dumped illegally in the wild.
Kenneth Krysko, a herpetologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, speculates that should the two species mate, they could create genetically superior offspring more aggressive, powerful and resilient than their parents — possibly with the ability to strike down human prey.
Rock pythons are “so mean, they come out of the egg striking . . . this is one vicious animal”, he told National Geographic News. “The arrival of the Burmese python was the biggest, most devastating problem that Florida could ever have imagined. Now we have a worse one.”
Native to South-East Asia, Burmese pythons — which can grow up to 20ft long and weigh more than 200lb — have gained a place in the Everglades in the past decade. Tens of thousands are now believed to prowl south Florida, preying on native wildlife, including alligators,
A new report by the US Geological Survey finds that eight other alien constrictors — including reticulated pythons, the world’s longest snakes, and green anacondas, the heaviest — are on the loose, posing a high-risk environmental threat. Five African rock pythons have been found so far. “These giant snakes threaten to destabilise some of our most precious ecosystems and parks,” said Robert Reed, an expert on invasive species.
The report notes that in their natural habitats, Burmese, reticulated and African pythons have been known to kill humans. “The situation with human risk is similar to that experienced with alligators: attacks in the wild are improbable but possible,” it adds.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has run schemes to try to combat the problem, including using thermal imaging to spot them in the undergrowth and licensing hunters. Postmen, meter-readers and FedEx delivery drivers have been trained to look out for snakes. Even so, the commission says that only 35 Burmese pythons have been captured since the hunting season opened in mid-July.