Friday, January 6, 2012 at 6:28 a.m.
As if snakes large enough to swallow -- or at least try to swallow
-- alligators in the Everglades aren't frightening enough, U.S. Geological Survey researchers delivered a bit of unsettling news
this week about Burmese pythons. These massive beasts can't be held back by saltwater.
The researchers hoped that reptiles' poor tolerance to saltwater would apply to these invasive, constricting mofos and confine them to the Everglades -- the only known wild breeding spot in the United States. But what they found in lab experiments is that the snakes can "survive in marine and estuarine environments such as bays, inlets and open seas." Look out, South Florida.
, published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
, gave a bunch of newly hatched pythons only saltwater to drink. The little tikes were able to survive a full month on just the salty stuff, with two of them living for more than 200 days in modestly salty waters.
A month may not seem like long time, but the team notes that baby snakes, like baby humans, are weak and vulnerable. So, they posited, it's likely that larger adult snakes -- which can be well over 20 feet long and weigh more than 200 pounds -- will probably be able to survive longer in bodies of saltwater.
Kristen Hart, who led the study, said in a statement that the new findings raise the likelihood that these snakes could branch out to nearby waterways and make their way toward the Florida Keys and similar locales.
"The fact that this study has ruled out one of the most hoped-for forms of physical barriers, salt water, as preventing the spread of invasive pythons in Florida puts even more onus on human action to prevent the spread of these damaging reptiles," Marcia McNutt of the USGS said in a statement
. "This study demonstrates the distinct possibility that pythons could spread to new suitable habitats one estuary at a time."
According to National Geographic
, these snakes are "excellent swimmers
" capable of staying submerged for up to a half hour, allowing them to cover a decent amount of ground in a month.
Burmese pythons care little about that whole food-chain thing, and their spread outside the Everglades could alter ecosystems throughout the state.
The only upside to all of this is the off-chance of a python fighting a shark. And that's only awesome if a Discovery Channel crew is there with high-def camera equipment.
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