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EDITORIAL: Snakes in the grass
Reptilian eruption breeds southern discomfort
Question of the Day
Not every snake lives in the grass. Washington is proof of that. But many do. So many Burmese pythons have taken over the Florida Everglades that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has opened a month-long open season to kill the beasts before there won’t be any wildlife to conserve.
Florida, and indeed the South, is often no place for the weak and squeamish. Fire ants, killer bees, kudzu and a few remaining Democrats insist on living in the moonlight among the magnolias, and now the Burmese python has taken up residence there. The Burmese python is neither native to America nor is it poisonous and it rarely attacks man, but it grows to great length and it squeezes and swallows almost anything in its path. If it could be domesticated and properly trained it might make an ideal auditor for the Internal Revenue Service.
A good-sized snake can devour ducks, raccoons, possums, birds and rats. They seem to prefer birds and rats, but they’re not particular. Sometimes even a small deer will be squeezed to death and then squeezed down the python’s throat. They’re scary big. Last year, a Burmese python was captured and measured 17 feet 7 inches long, and even scarier, it was a female carrying 87 eggs. Researchers at the Florida Natural History Museum at the University of Florida, performing a necropsy — similar to an autopsy — had to put three examining tables together, and four men were required to lift it to the tables.
The Florida pythons are descended from pets; yes, Virginia, there are people who pet snakes. More or less cute, depending on your point of view, when they’re taken home from the pet shop, the pythons quickly outgrow their welcome. They’re too big to flush down the toilet, and the owners don’t want them in the back yard where they might devour dogs, cats and small children, so they’re typically set free in the wilds of the Everglades.
They became a pest about a decade ago, and their numbers are estimated to be about 30,000 now, and growing. Rabbits can only envy their procreating ability. More than 800 python hunters armed with rifles and beheading axes went after prey, legal through mid-February. Only 11 were brought in at the end of the first day of the hunt. Though they’re native to Southeast Asia, some have been captured in the foothills of the Himalayas, and this leads researchers to speculate that the python could survive in a dozen states across the South and West. Like global warming, this is probably a threat much exaggerated. Nevertheless, wildlife officials hope to keep them in southern Florida. “Once they get to the sugarcane fields north of the Everglades, they’re gone.” Then it’s off to Louisiana, or maybe even the Ozarks. Something else to worry about, just not too much.
The Washington Times
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