Report assesses risks from South Florida's big snakes

The Miami HeraldOctober 14, 2009 

There are a few upbeat findings in a new federal study of the assorted threats posed to the nation by Burmese pythons and eight other large exotic constrictors.

This, for instance: "Although the largest individuals of all of the species covered in this work are probably capable of killing an adult human, most seem disinclined to do so."

Take some solace in that reptilian reluctance because much of the rest of a 302-page risk assessment of nine species of giant invasive snakes released Tuesday by the U.S. Geological Survey is not so comforting -- particularly for Florida.

Given the evidence slithering from the Everglades to Tampa, it's no surprise which region ranked at the top of the risk list.

"On the mainland, South Florida is ground zero," said Gordon Rodda, a USGS zoologist in Fort Collins, Colo., who co-authored the report with colleague Robert Reed, an invasive species scientist and herpetologist.

It's not just a warm, wet climate that makes the snakes feel at home. The area is also a hub for importers and breeders who supply the pet trade -- the source of escapes and releases that have allowed at least one species, the Burmese or Indian python, to establish itself across much of the peninsula.

Based on climate alone, South Texas and tropical islands like Hawaii and Puerto Rico also are at high risk. A few of the hardier species also could potentially make a go of it in the warmer southern belt.

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