Hunting for pythons

Here’s a good story about the threat exotic species (pythons)┬ápose to the Everglades and what scientists are doing about it. Notice the creative ideas for catching the elusive pythons.

After slipping, sliding and tumbling down a rocky embankment, Snow, a wildlife biologist, grabbed one of the creatures by the tail. The python, Oberhofer says, did not care much for that.

“It made a sound like Darth Vader breathing,” she says, “and then its head swung around and I saw this white mouth flying through the air.”

Snow saw the mouth, too – the jaws open 180 degrees, the gums an obscene white, the needle-sharp teeth bared in an almost devilish grin.

Yet, as vast and threatening as these wetlands may appear, they have been so drained and abused by humans in the last century that a population of pythons, if left unchallenged, could take down this fragile web of life within a generation.

“It’s a now-or-never thing,” Oberhofer says. “We still have a chance, with the python’s numbers being so limited, to do something. But if we let this go, we don’t know how far the pythons will migrate, how much they will reproduce.”

One thing is certain, Snow says. “They’ll eat just about everything that’s warm-blooded.”

“I’ve walked right by pythons and not even known they were right next to me,” he says. “Most times, you can’t see the enemy until you stumble across it.”

Crunching his way back to the off-roader, eyes darting this way and that, he described tactics to control pythons. One idea, recommended by snake management experts, has produced results: implanting captured pythons with radio transmitters and releasing them into the wild to track their movements, habitat use and breeding patterns – and to betray the locations of other pythons.

“It’s all based on the Judas concept,” Snow said, noting that four “tagged” pythons had led to the capture of 12 others through October and that three more pythons with transmitters have since been released.

Snow suspects that female pythons lay down trails of chemical scent “cues” for suitors. If scientists could develop synthetic cues, he says, the chemicals might be used to draw pythons into one of his traps.

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