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Florida Burmese Python Study – Snakes Cannot Survive South Carolina Winter

Burmese PythonHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  In 2008, a computer-based study by the US Geological Survey stated that Florida’s introduced Burmese Pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) might colonize up to 1/3 of the United States in time.  While the snakes’ presence in Florida is a severe problem, the release of this study generated a flood of illogical fears and predictions.  Recently, another study conducted by a noted herpetologist and utilizing live snakes has injected some sanity into the controversy.

Method and Results

Conducted at the Savannah River Site in central South Carolina (stomping grounds of legendary herpetologist Whit Gibbons and the site of many important field research efforts), the study was designed to determine if Burmese Pythons could survive winters in this region.  Ten snakes, ranging in size from 4-11 feet, were confined to an 80 x 100 foot outdoor pen in which was available the food, shelter and vegetation typically found nearby. 

As reported in the September, 2010 issue of Biological Invasions, all 10 snakes perished between December 11, 2009 and January 4, 2010. 

Pythons Hibernate in Asia, Why not in America?

The USGS study that claimed pythons would spread north of Florida was based on the similarities between the climate in the American Southeast and that in parts of the snakes’ native range.  Indeed, in the northern and mountainous portions of their range (please see green area on map), Burmese Pythons do experience cold winters, and are known to hibernate/brumate.  So why did they die in South Carolina?

In addition to differences in the length and intensity of the cold period, and in the types of shelters used for the winter, it may be that only certain populations of Burmese Pythons are cold-adapted, and these have not found their way into the pet trade (and, hence, to Florida).  Such has been established for other species – Green Anoles in southern Florida, for example, cannot tolerate northern Florida’s winters (one reason why you should not release captives, even within their natural range).

Future Research

Burmese Python Range MapThe winter chosen for the study was unusually cold, causing large die-offs of pythons and other reptiles even in southern Florida (please see article below), so follow-up studies in milder winters may be useful. 

Further Reading

Cold Snap Kills Florida Herps (last winter’s effect on pythons and others).

CUNY Study claiming pythons will survive only in south Florida.

Please write in with your questions and comments. 

 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Burmese Range Map image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Tigerpython

8 comments

  1. avatar

    Very good Frank. There is way too much paranoia regarding snakes out there, nice to see some people are level headed.

  2. avatar

    Hello Kurt, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you, thanks.

    I too was glad to see that small study. A potentially serious problem for sure, but as you say folks can get carried away. I saw one bit of “research” (possibly by USGS, but don’t quote me on that) stating that a high density of beaver ponds might allow pythons to leap frog from food-source-to- food source, and eventually reach California!

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    A happy and healthy new year to you and yours, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    Frank:

    Point to note that I made this report known back in October of 2008 on the Outdoor show on KLVI a local AM broadcaster. My hypothesis also concluded similar results, but my evidence presented came from a much wider conservation model accepted covering the latitudinal gradient. We all know that the tropics of cancer are around 30˚, anything north or south of this barrier at each respective pole can not host the same climatic conditions. Most of the southern tip of florida in the everglades where these burmese are most problematic lie almost directly at the 30˚ latitude. This and some places in south Texas are the only places in the US which can be classified as a tropical environment, and in my mind the only places that are likely able to thrive with burmese python populations. When asked what I thought of our local issue (removal of 3 burmese, no where near need to worry) I informed the listeners of this and it was received with great extent. So yes, while 1/3rd of the US was estimated to have potential burmese python populations, there are many climate factors, habitat factors, predator / prey interactions, and habitat size factors that further end the possibility of these giants expanding into that large of a national problem.

    Cheers

  4. avatar

    Hello Cody, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for your interest and the most informative update. A serious problem, but nice to see some rational thoughts put into the mix. I found your blog quite interesting as well. I’ll add it to my blog roll on ThatbirdBlog; you might enjoy some of the birding/conservation/research articles there as well (pet care is also covered). Please feel free to post comments and observations.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    Appreciate it. I will scan through as I have time and see what everyone is talking about. I’m sure there is plenty of interest and hype in the birds falling from the sky, and what the truth behind the matter is.

    Cheers

  6. avatar

    Hello Cody, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you,

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  7. avatar

    hey i used this for a paper

  8. avatar

    Hello Phil

    Thanks for your interest; I’m glad the article was useful to you and your friends.

    Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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