Iguanas and Lizards
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The world’s giant snakes include:
  • Green Anaconda
  • Reticulated Python
  • Burmese Python
  • African Rock Python
  • All of these snakes can be found on the loose in Florida.

    Iguana Invasion

    Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

    and what to do about them

    Burmese Python
                 Burmese Python

    Exotic Snakes

    Giant Snakes

    If a snake measures 5 to 10 feet long, it is regarded by biologists as large. Species that can reach a length greater than this are known as the giant snakes. There are only a handful of species of giant snakes in the world.

    If a snake measures more than 10 feet in length, it is usually either a boa or a python. Some scientists classify boas and pythons together, others separate the two. In Florida, no native snakes are this large. Only escaped and abandoned pets and their offspring are this enormous.

    There are 43 species of boas including the Common Boa and the Green Anaconda. The Common Boa is native to Central and South America, while Green Anacondas are found in Trinidad and northern parts of South America. Boas do not lay eggs, but give birth to live young. Both can be found on the loose in our state.

    Unlike boas, pythons lay eggs like most other reptiles. Pythons are native to Asia, Africa, Australia and the islands nearby. There are around 10 different species including the giant Reticulated Python and Burmese Python. These two species are popular with the pet trade and can be found living in the wild in Florida.

    Boa Constrictors

    The Common Boa is a carnivorous snake that is non-venomous and adaptable. These snakes do well in captivity and give birth to as many as 50 live babies once a year. They can be friendly if hand-raised. For these reasons, the species is a favorite of pet breeders and traders. In the wild, Common Boas feed on small to medium sized birds and mammals. They hunt for prey on the ground and in trees. They are most active at dusk and during the night. Adults may reach a length of 13 feet. In Florida, they have no predators. Boa Constrictor

    Constrictor snakes kill their prey by squeezing the animal until it is crushed to death. Common Boas also strike with their head, and their teeth can make serious wounds. They do not eat frequently because their metabolism is slow, but they will consume native wildlife, outcompeting Florida’s native snakes for food and territory. Common Boas have been seen eating small dogs and cats.

    If you see what you think is a boa constrictor on the loose in your neighborhood, do not try to capture it yourself. Keep your family and pets away from the snake and call in a wildlife trapper: www.myfwc.com/Trappers.

    Biggest Snake on the Loose

    Anacondas are a kind of boa but they are much larger than the Common Boa. These nonpoisonous constrictors are the heaviest snakes in the world, sometimes weighing more than 300 pounds. They are also the widest snakes in the world, and can grow to 35 feet in length. Only the occasional Reticulated Python is sometimes longer than the anaconda.

    There are four species of anacondas, two rare. The Green Anaconda, one of the more common species, is the largest of the anacondas. The average Green Anaconda is 20 feet long and almost a foot wide. These massive snakes have been found living in the wild in Florida.

    The Green Anaconda is not native to Florida, so all of these snakes on the loose are released or abandoned pets. They have been seen in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress Swamp. It is unknown whether these snakes are breeding.

    These giant snakes like to live near the water. Their olive green coloring provides camouflage so that they can hide on the banks of rivers and canals or in branches of trees above the water. Sometimes these snakes wait submerged in the water up to their eyes until their prey comes by for a drink.

    The Green Anaconda preys on wading birds, turtles, pigs, deer, and other animals as large as jaguars. They can go for a year between meals since their digestion process is slow. If disturbed, these snakes will swim away or excrete a highly smelly musk before escaping.

    These huge snakes are understandably bad tempered in captivity. No animal this large should be caged. Unhappy pet owners have dumped their unwanted Green Anacondas in the parks of South Florida, where they appear to be able to survive. If you see one in your neighborhood, call 911. Do not approach the snake and keep your pets and family away.

    Reticulated Python

    Reticulated Python

    The largest of the 10 python species is the Reticulated Python, which can grow to 30 feet in length--or more! These snakes are not as wide or as heavy as the Green Anaconda, but they can reach similar lengths. The largest snake in Asia, these pythons are native to Southeast Asia and the islands near Australia.

    The netted patterns on the back of this beautiful snake are called “reticulations.” The pretty patterns look like large spots separated by black or white lines. The snake may be gold or brown or gray, and is easy to identify because of its enormous size.

    The Reticulated Python may lay up to 100 eggs, and the female coils around them until they hatch. Baby pythons have lots of predators in Florida, but the adults have none.

    These huge snakes feed on birds and mammals. They consume a lot of food and are aggressive in nature. In the Florida wild, such large snakes will outcompete native wildlife for both food and territory. There have been reports of Reticulated Pythons attacking and killing humans, but not in our state.

    It is easy to see why these snakes do not make good pets. Once they reach adult size, their need to consume live animals poses a problem for pet owners. They are not poisonous but, like all snakes, they will bite. Disillusioned pet owners have dumped Reticulated Pythons in the suburban areas of South Florida and in the Everglades, where they may be breeding.

    If you see a Reticulated Python in the wild, call 911. Do not approach it and protect your family and pets by keeping them away.

    Burmese Pythons

    Burmese Pythons are thick, heavy snakes that can grow to 25 feet in length. In the wild, they like to live near water. They are fast swimmers and good climbers, and can travel quickly on land to cover more than a mile a day. They prey on other reptiles, birds and mammals. In the neighborhoods and parks of Florida, these pythons can consume entire populations of rabbits, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, wading birds like herons and other native wildlife. They can eat animals as large as deer and alligators.

    Since the Burmese Python became the most popular python species with the pet trade, it has evolved into an invasive species in the state of Florida. Pythons do not make good pets because the adults are enormous and require a lot of food. Their care is demanding and expensive. Too many pet owners have been releasing their unwanted Burmese Pythons, and the snakes have been spotted sunning themselves in Miami, the Keys, and Everglades National Park. Wildlife biologists believe these giant pythons are now breeding in the wild in South Florida.

    From 2002 to 2005, more than 200 pythons were captured around the state. From 2006 to 2007, more than 400 were caught in the wild. Experts estimate that the number of Burmese Pythons captured represents only a fraction of the number living in Everglades National Park, which could hold more than 100,000 pythons if they bred freely. Wildlife biologists are using radio-tracking devices to study the habits and travel routes of these giant snakes.

    A python hotline has been established in Everglades National Park so that visitors can report sightings. In the Florida Keys, scientists are attempting to halt an invasion of Burmese Pythons believed to be migrating from the Everglades. A training program has been established so that residents who spot these snakes can call in a trapper at once.

    If you see one of these giant pythons in the wild, call 911. The Burmese Python is not venomous but it will inflict a serious bite. Stay back and keep others away until the trappers arrive.

    Burmese Pythons captured in the wild in Florida are routinely euthanized. This is unfair to the snakes. Certainly these exotic animals are not to blame for their release into an environment that allows them to thrive while threatening the native inhabitants. We must protect Florida from these dangerous exotic animals, but it is because pet owners are failing to be responsible that these beautiful snakes are being put to death in large numbers.

    Rock Python
    Photo by Adam G. Stern

    African Rock Pythons, like the one pictured above, resemble Burmese Pythons. These giant snakes have also been found in the wild in Florida. They are known for their nasty and aggressive dispositions, and do not make good pets.

    What to Do about Giant Snakes

    Pythons have been reported on the loose as far north as Jacksonville. Although they are cold-blooded, these intelligent snakes are able to regulate their body temperature enough to survive a mild winter. If you live in an area where pythons may be breeding, fence in your yard and keep watch over your pets and small children. These snakes will only come into your yard on their way to somewhere else, or to procure food. Do not make food available to the wildlife you do not want around.

    If you do see what you think is a giant exotic snake on the loose, stay back and immediately call 911. Also, report your sighting to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on their Nuisance Species Hotline: nas.er.usgs.gov. The federal government is trying to monitor the appearance and habits of exotic animals on the loose in various states.

    Invasive animals are a low priority in Florida. The relatively minor budget allotted for dealing with the problem reflects this lack of interest and commitment. You can make your opinions on the subject of exotic pets known by writing to local and state politicians about the need to restrict sales in a state with an environment that allows for unchecked proliferation in the wild. You can also protest the ongoing sales of giant exotic snakes and other problematic species by sharing your opinion with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Email your letter to: Commissioners@myfwc.com.

    Since the 1970s, Florida has maintained licensing laws for the ownership of large, potentially dangerous, exotic animals. More recently, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission enacted new regulations for the ownership of certain exotic reptiles. Owners of pythons and anacondas (as well as Nile Monitor lizards) must file for special permits, which cost $100. Microchips implanted in the registered animals help identify owners if the pets are ever found loose.

    Wildlife biologists in the state see our exotic snake invasion as an experiment that is out of control. Animals from Asia, Africa and South America, are being tossed into the Florida environment during a time when overdevelopment has reduced native wildlife and global warming has increased the average temperature. Some abandoned exotics may not survive, but others will, and so will their offspring. This may lead to disastrous problems in the future for our state.

    Considering the potential threat to the state we live in, Floridians should never buy exotic snakes for pets. Wild animals should remain in their native habitat where they belong. Wild animals fit into specific ecosystems where they help to create a healthy balance. Giant snakes and other beautiful animals are not here on this planet to serve as conversation pieces in the living rooms of humans seeking new forms of entertainment. If you’ve made a mistake and are no longer able to care for your exotic snake, do not let it loose. Check out the details about Exotic Pet Amnesty Days hosted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: www.myfwc.com. Or bring the animal back to the pet store where you purchased it. Find a home for your pet. Do not turn your pet fad into yet another exotic pet invasion.

    Next time your children ask for a new and exciting pet, you can buy them a book instead. Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida explains in simple words and photos what your children need to learn about the consequences of exotic pet ownership in our state. The book also serves as an excellent reference for identifying the most common species of non-native snakes.

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    New book:

    Iguana Invasion! Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida

    by Virginia Aronson and Allyn Szejko

    Available at your local bookseller, Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and Pineapple Press.

    Book CoverFind out more here.

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